NC Democratic legislators introduce sweeping election reform bills

Image: Adobe Stock

Rallying for election reforms, House Democrats unveiled a new bill entitled the “Fix Our Democracy Act” and highlighted a recently introduced measure designed to safeguard voting rights at a press conference Tuesday.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, said the Safeguarding Voting Rights bill (HB 446) she’s co-sponsoring “gives no favor to any party” by focusing on four areas to ensure ease and accessibility for voting: voter registration and absentee/mail-in voting, recruitment of pollworkers, increasing flexibility for voting hours and the rights to vote during state holidays.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham

Morey stressed the importance of expanding mail-in voting. The bill would require the state Board of Elections to send out absentee ballot requests to every eligible voter with pre-paid postage at least 90 days before Election Day. The bill would make the one-witness requirement enacted temporarily by the General Assembly for the 2020 elections a permanent measure. The bill further requires at least one drop-off site in each county. Ballots postmarked by Election Day would still be counted if received no later than three days after the Election Day at 5 pm.

“My colleagues and myself strongly believe this is the time we encourage people to vote,” Morey said.She noted that  HB 446 seeks to make voting secure and easy and noted the many restrictive voting bills have been introduced across the country.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, previewed another new bill HB 542. She said the Fix our Democracy Act aims to fix our democracy “each person having an equal voice”

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford

Clemmons explained that the proposal builds upon House and Senate bills with the same name from 2019, by advancing a series of reforms in elections, redistricting, voting, campaign finance, lobbying and transparency. Neither of the 2019 bills made it out of their committees.

A Senate version of HB 542, SB 716 has also been introduced by Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

Among the Fix Our Democracy Act’s provisions are:

Voting and redistricting

  • Online and automatic voter registration – The measure allows eligible citizens to register to vote automatically whenever they interact with government agencies, such as the DMV, unless they decline to do so. A voter purge would only be allowed when the nonforwarding postcard from the county board of commission was returned.
  • At least one polling place required on college campuses with over 4,500 enrolled students. Read more

NC Democrats push for common sense voting reforms

Say this much, at least, for those legislators who favor making it easier, not harder, for North Carolinians to vote: They’re not ready to surrender to their vote-suppressing foes.

Even as key Republicans in the state Senate push changes to absentee voting rules whose main purpose would be to gum up the works, a group of House Democrats is pushing the other way.

Their bill entitled “Safeguarding Voting Rights,” introduced March 31 as House Bill 446, would protect popular voting options and in general encourage citizens to have their say at the polls.

It likely has zero chance of passage in a General Assembly controlled by Republicans in sync with the party’s national effort to downsize the electorate in its favor. But it shows the kind of steps that could be taken to strengthen our state’s voting procedures if maximum participation is the goal – while highlighting the divide between those who think maximum participation works in the public interest and those who don’t.

Here’s another point that needs to be made as Republicans from the former president on down continue to raise unfounded concerns about voter fraud. Of course the provisions of HB 446 would have to be carefully vetted to avoid any compromise of election security. But there’s no reason to think that shoring up access to the polls has to pave the way for cheating, or worse, that it’s meant to do so.

We should instead recall the high standard of efficiency and honesty that the state’s elections officials managed to meet even as turnout surged during the presidential election conducted last fall amid a deadly pandemic. For those worried about “election integrity,” now a favorite Republican cause, virus-era adjustments that helped people vote safely and securely should have drawn cheers, not jeers.

HB 446 so far has 32 sponsors, all Democrats – amounting to a majority of the party’s 51 House members (vs. 69 Republicans). Its primary sponsors are Reps. Marcia Morey of Durham, Allison Dahle of Raleigh, Kandie Smith of Greenville and Amos Quick III of Greensboro. Among the bill’s notable features, it would let absentee voters submit their ballots with the signature of only one witness rather than two.

The one-witness rule was approved by the legislature as a stop-gap response to the risks posed by in-person contact during the pandemic, but it now has lapsed. There’s ample reason to extend it, even if the COVID-19 threat continues to fade. It makes absentee voting more convenient with no evidence that it facilitates fraud. A huge increase in the number of absentee voters was a significant driver of 2020’s high turnout, and no doubt many of those voters would choose that method again if didn’t pose undue hassles.

Ballot ballet

The bill would affirm that as provided under current law, voters could apply for absentee ballots as late as the Tuesday before an election, and if a ballot was submitted by mail, it would count so long as it was received by the third day after Election Day.

However, it appears to drop the requirement that ballots also must be postmarked by Election Day. That presumably is in recognition that some mail these days isn’t postmarked at all. Yet the notion that ballots might be counted even if they were mailed after voting was supposed to have ended shapes up as a red flag.

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 326, now pending, would advance the application deadline by a week and make Election Day the cutoff for receipt – essentially giving absentee voters the bum’s rush. Read more

GOP legislative leaders should let voters have their say on proposal to end gerrymandering

Image: AdobeStock

Gerrymandering. For decades, this maddening phenomenon in which politicians rig elections by drawing legislative maps and, in effect, choosing their own voters, has had a ruinous impact on North Carolina politics and policymaking.

Now, however, thanks to the inspired work of reform advocates, all that can and should change.

House Bill 437 – the “Fair Maps Act” – would amend the state constitution to take redistricting power out of the hands of partisan legislators and establish an independent commission comprised of everyday North Carolinians to draw the state’s voting districts free from political influence.

This is from a statement issued by the good people at Common Cause of NC earlier this week:

Primary sponsors of the Fair Maps Act include Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Durham), Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake) and Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham). (Click here to watch video clips of the bill sponsors discussing their support for the Fair Maps Act and ending gerrymandering in North Carolina.)

“We applaud these lawmakers for introducing the Fair Maps Act. This legislation provides lasting, nonpartisan reform that would end gerrymandering for good in North Carolina. The Fair Maps Acts would stop the practice of politicians manipulating our voting districts and it would ensure voters have a true voice in choosing their representatives,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “While the citizens commission proposed by the Fair Maps Act would not be in place for the 2021 round of redistricting, the bill puts forward key principles that legislators should look to as new districts are drawn this year. Among those principles are the importance of meaningful public participation, rejecting partisan or racial gerrymandering and protecting communities from being needlessly divided.”

Phillips noted that the most prominent Republican leaders currently in the legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore, both sponsored bills to create a citizens redistricting commission when their party was in the minority a little more than a decade ago.

“It was right for Speaker Moore and President Pro Tem Berger to support nonpartisan redistricting when their party was out of power, and it would still be the right thing to do now that their party controls the General Assembly,” Phillips said. “We urge members of both parties to end the damaging cycle of gerrymandering and put the well-being of North Carolinians above partisan politics by passing the Fair Maps Act.”

The bottom line: This is a model that’s worked well in other states and swift passage ought to be a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, as has been the case for years, Republican leadership in the General Assembly remains a huge roadblock.

All caring and thinking North Carolinians should demand that GOP leaders end their stubborn resistance to reform and let voters have their say.

Editorial: Virginia leaves NC behind once again

Elected leaders in Virginia have been pursuing a more progressive and productive path on a number of important issues of late than the lawmakers south of the border. The state has leapt ahead in its embrace of solar energy, is slated to become the first southern state to enact its own voting rights act, and will legalize marijuana in the near future.

What’s more, as today’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com points out, the Old Dominion is also outpacing North Carolina in another popular and vitally important area: putting an end to partisan gerrymandering through redistricting reform.

This is from the editorial:

Just a few months ago voters in neighboring Virginia overwhelmingly (67% of the state’s 4.2 million ballots) amended their state Constitution to put congressional and legislative district map-drawing into the hands of a bipartisan commission. This year a 16-member commission of citizens and legislators — equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – will redraw Virginia’s districts when the 2020 Census count is finalized.

While not perfect, it is a vast improvement over the way it was being handled by that state’ legislature.

North Carolina’s political leaders seem to be obsessed with trying to game the electoral system. Whether it is tussling over: The types of photo identification to be required at polling places; Numbers of days and specific hours polling places are open; The location of polling places; Mail-in absentee voting procedures or; The authority of local and state election officials: — no details that possibly might give one political party an advantage, is overlooked for manipulation for even the most minute partisan advantage.

Legislators need to embark now on developing and adopting a non-partisan system for drawing congressional and legislative districts. The timing couldn’t be better.

After noting that the delay in the arrival of new census data provides a perfect opportunity for North Carolina lawmakers to get moving, the editorial puts it this way:

Establishing a nonpartisan commission of citizens, with open and objective criteria to develop representative congressional and legislative districts won’t help incumbents, Democrats or Republicans keep or gain power.

But it will make sure ALL those who are supposed to have the REAL power and the STRONGEST voice in a democracy – the voters – aren’t weakened or muffled.

Or, as veteran good government advocate Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina put it in an op-ed featured by NC Policy Watch yesterday:

The courts have made clear that gerrymandering is unconstitutional in North Carolina, and the public overwhelmingly wants nonpartisan redistricting.

…Moving forward, we need to enact lasting reform that ultimately takes redistricting power out of the hands of politicians, entrusting it with a nonpartisan citizens commission to draw our voting maps without racial or partisan gerrymandering. There are a variety of nonpartisan redistricting models working in other states. Let’s learn from them and create a system that best serves North Carolina.

At long last, let’s banish the specter of gerrymandering. It’s time to establish fair redistricting that finally puts people above politics.

Click here to read the entire WRAL editorial.

Evidence has already convicted Trump, even if Tillis, Burr lack the courage and integrity to do so

It’s possible to imagine even more shameful behavior from an American president than the nation witnessed from Donald Trump.

He could have literally murdered someone in the middle of the street with his own hands — the act he once infamously bragged he could pull off without punishment.

He could have directly consorted with a foreign power to abet an invasion of the U.S. (though his shocking behavior toward his pal Vladimir Putin and remarkable inaction toward Russian bounties on the lives of American soldiers came pretty close).

He could have tried to suspend the Constitution and proclaim himself dictator for life (another act that he came frighteningly close to trying).

Short of those acts, however, it’s hard to conceive of anything worse than what Trump did during the waning day of his disastrous presidency. This chilling reality has been on full display this week during the Senate impeachment trial.

As numerous analysts have explained, the impeachment case presented by House managers has made it crystal clear that Donald Trump attempted to overthrow American democracy and must be brought to justice. This is from today’s lead editorial in the Washington Post:

On Wednesday, the managers demonstrated that the violence was predictable. Mr. Trump planned the rally with the organizers of the second Million MAGA March, a previous pro-Trump event that had turned violent. House members detailed how Trump fanatics openly planned the Capitol invasion on pro-Trump websites that the White House reportedly monitored, and how government officials warned about the threat of extremist violence. And they showed how Mr. Trump nevertheless told his mob, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” His acolytes, the presentation documented, had been primed by his previous support for violent acts, such as a Trump caravan’s attempt to run a bus of Biden supporters off a Texas highway.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers cannot credibly claim that the case is about a few careless words the then-president uttered in a single speech. He fed his mob lies, told them they were losing their country and directed them to the Capitol when it was obvious they did not mean to conduct orderly protest.

Tragically, as numerous observers and analysts have noted, a formal conviction is unlikely given the pathetic loyalty that most Republican senators still harbor toward Trump. North Carolina’s Thom Tillis even sent out a preposterous fundraising letter this week in which he condemned the impeachment trial as an effort by “the radical left” (you mean like Bill Cassidy and Liz Cheney, Senator?) that constitutes “an INSULT to every citizen struggling right now.”

As veteran Post columnist E.J. Dionne observed this morning, however, there is reason to to take some solace in the fact that this cowardly failure to convict won’t ultimately make that much difference when it comes to the trial’s most important function — documenting the truth for posterity and identifying the elected leaders in our country who are willing to abandon democracy:

The punditry says that fewer than 10 Republican Senators are likely to vote for Trump’s conviction. This will be an outrage, a sign that a once great party has surrendered to craven opportunism or, worse, brutal authoritarianism. But thanks to the work of the impeachment managers, the country will know how spineless the party has become.

The editorial board of the Financial Times summed it up neatly this way on Monday:

What happened last month was an attempted seizure of power by force. No democracy can tolerate such a crime or allow its orchestrator to hold public office again. It is important to know which senators disagree.

Indeed. One hopes fervently that they live to regret their cowardly decision.