The key issues North Carolina voters are likely deciding today

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

As noted in yesterday’s “Monday numbers” commentary, North Carolina is not a referendum state in which citizens can place initiatives on the ballot, but for better or worse, this year’s vote will serve, effectively, as referendum on several key issues of great importance (and on which voters tend to hold very strong opinions).

This is chiefly because two enormously important institutions will be greatly impacted by the outcome of the election.

First, of course, is the state legislature.

Thanks to aggressive partisan gerrymandering by GOP lawmakers, the legislature has leaned heavily Republican for years and will almost certainly continue to do so after this year’s election. That said, the critical question today is whether Republicans will win large veto-proof supermajorities in both the state Senate and House. This would require increasing GOP majorities by two seats in the Senate and three in the House.

If this happens, Gov. Cooper’s veto will cease to be effective and there will likely be little-to-no check on how far right state policy will shift on a raft of key issues.

The list includes:

  • abortion rights, where North Carolina would almost certainly cease to be a sanctuary state for patients from throughout the southeast,
  • guns, where even more laws to loosen access to firearms would be a virtual certainty,
  • education, where further expansion of vouchers and charters and renewed efforts to micromanage curricula will be on tap,
  • health care access, where the prospects of Medicaid expansion would be dealt another strong blow,
  • LGBTQ rights, where lawmakers can be expected to do everything in their power erect new limits — particularly for transgender people,
  • environmental protection, where the state’s limited ongoing efforts to address climate change will be further restricted or reversed,
  • fiscal policy, where ongoing efforts to end the state’s personal corporate income taxes will gain new momentum, and
  • redistricting, where the GOP seems likely to try again to further gerrymander legislative and congressional districts.

And, of course, all of these efforts would almost certainly be further bolstered if the GOP captures control of a second institution — the state Supreme Court. Currently, Democrats enjoy a 4-3 majority on the high court — a situation that has allowed it to hand down a number of progressive rulings on several issues in recent years — including education funding, environmental protection, voting rights, and redistricting.

Two of the court’s four Democratic seats are on the ballot in today’s election and if Republicans capture either one, most observers expect a hard right turn on the court.

In particular, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which a Republican-dominated court aggressively undermines recent rulings on partisan gerrymandering — a development that would allow the legislature to redraw maps yet again so as to guarantee even larger GOP majorities in both the legislature and the state’s congressional delegation.

Interestingly, public opinion polls tend to show that most North Carolinians are opposed to the aggressive conservative policy changes described above, but for now, other polls seem to indicate that this is unlikely to be reflected in today’s vote, which is expected to follow the long-standing American tradition of favoring the party out of power in the White House.

If this ends up being the result, it will be fascinating to see how North Carolinians respond in the months and years ahead to having facilitated a bevy of policy changes with which they disagree.


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The key issues North Carolina voters are likely deciding today