As U.S. Senate Republicans again stall voting rights legislation, advocates call for stronger protection

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer criticizes Senate Republicans after votes to debate the Freedom to Vote Act failed.

With opposition from U.S. Senate Republicans, Democrats again failed to meet the 60-votes threshold Wednesday needed to move the landmark “Freedom to Vote Act” along for debate.

The bill would expand voter registration, including automatic voter registration and same-day registration, end partisan congressional redistricting, enhance voting by mail, require at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, and make Election Day a federal holiday.

Apart from voting rights protection, the legislation also aims to promote election integrity, including strengthening campaign finance rules related to Super PACs, cracking down on disinformation, and establishing duty to report foreign election interference.

Sponsored in September by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, the measure is a compromise bill that scaled back from the For the People Act, which Manchin previously refused to back, citing a lack of bipartisan support.

Manchin has since tried to get Republicans on board with the Freedom to Vote Act. Senate rules allow delay and prolonged debate to prevent votes on a legislation — also known as a filibuster — until proponents of the bill succeed in mounting 60 votes to override the filibuster. With 50 votes in the Senate, Democrats would have needed to win the support of 10 Republicans, but none budged.

On the floor after the vote, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, blamed Senate Republicans for perpetuating former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric of the “Big Lie” alleging fraud in the 2020 elections.“Capitalizing on this malicious lie, his accolades in conservative-controlled legislatures are now passing laws across the country, making it harder for younger, poorer, urban and nonwhite Americans to participate in elections,” he said.

“By preventing the Senate from functioning as it was intended, Republicans in this body are permitting states to criminalize giving food and water to voters at the polls, Republicans are saying it’s okay to limit polling places and voting hours, and shut the door to more expansive vote by mail,” Schumer added.

Experts at the Brennan Center for Justice called the legislation “the most consequential voting rights and anti-corruption bill passed in more than half a century.“

A press release from the Brennan Center noted that 2020 was a successful election year with a record-high voter participation since 1900. However, 71% of white voters cast ballots, as compared to 58% among other voters, according to the press release. “That gap will only get worse under new state-level voter suppression laws and discriminatory gerrymandering that undermines communities of color’s growing political power,” the press release stated.

“The same faction that is trying to pass laws to bolster the Big Lie are the same faction that is trying to block the Freedom to Vote Act,” said Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections (pictured at left). “They are the same faction that blocked the Jan 6 investigation, using the same procedures.”

She said North Carolina, like some other states, has seen attacks on voting rights in this legislative session, ranging from proposals to criminalize election administrators for certifying elections “conducted contrary to statutory election law” or soliciting private donations, to a ban on the state Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s Office from settling lawsuits without the participation of legislative leadership. None of the bills has been enacted. These bills show an intent to shift control over election administration from neutral local officials to partisan state actors, she said.

Kromm said, as opposed to leaving the public “barraged by anti-voter bills,” it’s time for legislators to pass voting rights legislation proactively to “protect the guardrails of our democracy.”

Why fair legislative districts are crucial as NC grows larger and more racially diverse

Since 2010, North Carolina’s population has grown bigger and more racially diverse, according to new data released from the 2020 Census. As state decision makers use the data to draw new congressional and legislative districts, our state must ensure fair representation in our legislative bodies that reflect a changing population. Here are a few key takeaways from the 2020 Census redistricting data.

Source: Carolina Demography analysis of U.S. Decennial Census P.L. 94-171 Redistricting Data

Most NC counties became less populous in the last decade

According to analysis by Carolina Demography, North Carolina’s overall population grew from 9.5 million residents in 2010 to 10.4 million in 2020, an increase of almost 10%. At the county level, 51 of the state’s 100 counties saw a population decrease in the last decade, while 49 counties experienced a population gain over the same period.

Johnston, Brunswick, and Cabarrus counties were among the fastest-growing counties in the state between 2010 and 2020. Meanwhile, Tyrrell, Hyde, and Northampton counties were among those with the largest population percentage losses.

Source: Carolina Demography analysis of U.S. Decennial Census P.L. 94-171 Redistricting Data

Growing racial diversity in the Tar Heel state

The new Census data reveal that North Carolina’s population has become more racially diverse since 2010. The increased racial diversity was largely driven by Hispanic/Latinx, Multiracial and Asian residents.

Notably, the share of individuals identifying as Multiracial (two or more races) more than doubled over the past decade, growing by 161% (251,094). The Hispanic/Latinx population saw a 40% increase in population from 8.4% in 2010 to 10.7% in 2020. The Asian population saw a 65% increase in population from 2.2% in 2010 to 3.3% in 2020. The Black population declined slightly from 21.5% to 20.2% in 2020. Meanwhile the population of residents who identify as white remained largely the same, increasing by 1.4% over the past decade.

North Carolina’s child population holds steady

North Carolina adults accounted for nearly all of the population growth over the last decade, with an increase of 9.5% compared to the national growth rate of 7.3%. Among our youngest residents, the state child population remained largely the same, growing by a mere 2,654 children, an increase of 0.1%, since 2010.

At the county level, nearly three in every four counties had fewer children in 2020 than in 2010; the largest declines occurring in Robeson (-7,852), Cumberland (-5,294) and Wayne (-3,653) counties.

Overall, the child population 0-18 makes up about 22% of our state’s residents – but kids represent 100% of our state’s future.

New legislative districts will shape the lives of North Carolina kids and families for years to come

Many racial and ethnic groups have traditionally been left out of the political process. This first look at detailed population counts provides basic race and ethnicity data that should be carefully considered when redrawing district boundaries so as not to dilute the voting power of racial and ethnic groups and other “communities of interest.” Communities of interest can be a neighborhoods, communities, or groups of people who have common policy concerns, and would benefit from staying together in a single district.

These districts ultimately determine who gets elected to represent North Carolina residents in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the North Carolina House and Senate. When it comes to determining the policies that shape children and families’ long-term outcomes, legislative representation matters. Fair districts are districts that represent North Carolina’s increasingly diverse communities.

Take Action! The North Carolina House Redistricting Committee and Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee are currently accepting public comments on the state redistricting process through the public comment portal. For tips on how to write an effective public comment, explore Democracy NC’s Fight for Fair Maps campaign guide.

Vikki Crouse is a Policy Analyst and NC KIDS COUNT Project Director at NC Child, which first published this commentary.

Code red for American democracy

Hedrick Smith

[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]

Veteran journalist sums up the current mess and how we got here

For all the uproar among Democrats over restrictive voting laws passed by Republican legislatures in 17 states, Democrats have only recently awakened to the more dangerous threat to American democracy posed by Republican moves to take partisan control of counting votes and even overturn the popular vote in future elections.

For months, Democrats in Congress and nonpartisan election reformers have railed against the obstacles to voter turnout from new Republican restrictions on absentee ballots, mail voting, voter registration, and early voting, which fall especially hard on minority and younger voters.

But the greater danger to American democracy and election security lies in the stealth GOP scheme to gain partisan control of the traditionally non-partisan process of counting and certifying the vote, by empowering Republican legislatures to disqualify the popular vote and by putting Trump loyalists in charge of running elections in swing states.

Act two of “The Big Lie”

Call it Act Two of “The Big Lie,” the Republican action plan to manipulate the rules, change the process and prepare to alter the vote count in 2022, 2024 and beyond, if Republicans are losing. But for months, the big Democratic election reform bills in Congress, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, ignored the GOP plot to subvert the popular vote. Only now are counter-moves surfacing in Congress.

What makes the GOP action plan so menacing is that it builds on the Trump plot to change the outcome of the 2020 election. In his final month as President, Donald Trump went to war against our constitutional democracy on multiple fronts. The mob attack on Congress was just the most visible ploy.

Behind the scenes, Trump was simultaneously putting intense pressure on his Acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, to declare vote fraud, and when Rosen refused, Trump prepared to fire Rosen and replace him with a loyalist primed to do Trump’s bidding. Only the threat of group resignations of Justice Department and White House lawyers stopped Trump.

In a second desperate gambit, Trump placed a secret phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2 and demanded that Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes” so that Trump could win Georgia.

The day after that, Trump summoned Vice President Mike Pence to the Oval Office and had conservative lawyer John Eastman lay out a step-by-step game-plan for Pence, on January 6, simply to reject Electoral votes from swing states like Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania that had been won by Joe Biden, and then declare Trump had won re-election.

Election guardrails are now being targeted

Fortunately, constitutional Republicans like Pence, Rosen, Raffensperger, Republican supervisors in Arizona’s Maricopa County, (Phoenix area), and election board officials in Michigan refused to kowtow to Trump’s dictates. So the 2020 election withstood the Trump storm.

But this year, Trump loyalists are out to erode and override the election guardrails. They have targeted the procedures, institutions, and individuals who stood in Trump’s way after the last election. In multiple states, Republican legislatures have moved to take control of the machinery of elections and post-election vote counts.

“Election subversion ” is what election law attorneys politely call this. But in hardball politics, it amounts to “the real steal,” an aggressive stealth cabal that is underway in key states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Massive 2020 turnout triggered GOP tactics

Ironically, what triggered the GOP plot for usurping the popular vote was the stunning success of the 2020 election. Contrary to Trump’s ”Big Lie,” the 2020 election was a blowout. Despite fears of COVID, the pandemic actually caused many states to open up voting and that generated the best voter turnout since 1908 – 68% of eligible voters cast ballots.

In all, 158 million Americans voted -101 million voted either by mail (65 million) or voted early in person (36 million), far more than the 57 million voting on Election Day. That big 2020 vote benefited from a decade of political reforms that expanded mail voting, early voting, and easier registration.

So today, the U.S. has a more accessible voting system than two or three decades ago. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia now permit early voting. Thirty-four states and DC permit absentee mail voting, no excuse required. Seven states vote entirely by mail. All this has helped boost voter turnout, especially among Blacks, Latinos, and younger voters.

Supreme Court judges embolden the GOP

In a fearful backlash, Republican strategists have responded with a two-pronged strategy to turn back the clock: (1) by making it harder for some democratic-leaning voters to cast their ballots; and (2) by engineering ways for Republican-controlled legislatures or election officials to disqualify and/or change the popular vote. Read more

Right-wing legislators want to inspect Durham’s voting machines. Election officials say ‘no.’

A group of right-wing North Carolina House members calling themselves the Freedom Caucus want to crack open Durham County’s voting machines to check for vote manipulation despite no evidence of irregularities.

Members of the group announced their intentions at a news conference Thursday morning, and said they were picking a county at random. Durham is a heavily Democratic county and voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in a state that Donald Trump won.

“We started an investigation as to whether there were any foreign objects or modems or anything,” said Rep. Jeff McNeely, an Iredell Republican.

Later on the House floor, Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Durham Democrat, said members of the Freedom Caucus are not getting into the county’s voting machines.

“You are not welcome in Durham County,” he said.

In an email, Durham Board of Elections Director Derek Bowens said no one can open the machines.

“No one will be permitted to inspect voting equipment in Durham County as per statute and direction from the Executive Director of the State Board of Elections,” he wrote.

The Freedom Caucus for months has been questioning voting equipment. It had asked earlier this year for a random inspection that State Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell denied in a July letter.

“The State Board does not permit members of the public to access, manipulate, or disassemble certified voting equipment,” she wrote.  “Under Rule 08 NCAC 04 .0306, county boards of elections are responsible for the safekeeping, storage, maintenance, and care of voting equipment. Voting systems must be stored in a location such that ‘access is restricted to county board of elections staff and the system cannot be tampered with when not in use on Election Day.’”

Most counties use equipment manufactured by ES&S, and the company let House members look inside machines to show that they don’t have modems. Legislators said  Thursday that they want to look at machines that are in use.

“We want to randomly pick machines,” McNeely said Thursday. General Assembly police will help find evidence and secure the machines, he said.

Trump supporters stirred groundless suspicions about voting equipment after he lost the 2020 election. Trump backer Sidney Powell pushed a wacky conspiracy theory that somehow connected Dominion voting machines’ 2020 counts to long-dead Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Dominion Voting Systems sued Powell, Fox News, One America News, Rudy Giuliani, Newsmax, and  MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell for defamation.

Dominion machines are not used in North Carolina.

Durham is in the middle of an election season. Primaries for mayor and City Council seats just ended. One-stop early voting for the general election starts next week.

In a statement Thursday, Bell repeated that legislators cannot open voting machines.

“Unauthorized individuals who are not elections professionals have no authority to open and inspect voting equipment. Federal election security officials warn against any manipulation of voting systems, as that increases the risk of accidental or intentional damage, manipulation, or theft of assets and data. Any machine that is tampered with would have to be decertified and replaced.   Durham County is still canvassing from the October municipal election and voting has begun for the November elections. N.C.G.S. § 163-166.7(c)(1) requires voting systems to “remain secure throughout the period voting is being conducted.” Durham County must see that process through without disruption.   It is extremely disheartening when elected officials do not trust the process that elected them, nor the thousands of bipartisan election officials and poll workers who ensure North Carolina’s elections are fair and secure.   The State Board has received no credible evidence that the certified results are not accurate, and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have stated that the 2020 general election in North Carolina was conducted fairly. In North Carolina, post-election audits and recounts proved election results were accurate.   As documented in publications across the country, this type of stunt puts the safety of election officials at risk.

On Wednesday, a House committee approved House bill 259, which would require all voting systems in the state be manufactured in the United States by a company with headquarters in this country.

Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Beaufort Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the cost was immaterial and that voting machine companies would move manufacturing to the United States to comply with laws.

The bill aims to protect elections from “any undo influence from outside the United States,” Kidwell said.

Additionally, the bill would link jury duty notifications to voter rolls. Names of people called for jury duty who say they cannot serve because they are not citizens would be matched against voter rolls and marked for removal. Their names would be made public.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said at the committee meeting that she was worried about mistakes and harassment of people on the list.

In 2012, WRAL tried the potential voter-to-juror match in Wake County after far-right political activist erroneously claimed to find non-citizens on the voter rolls. WRAL reported that the method leads to false matches.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill in 2019 that centered on the jury notification  section of House bill 259.

Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican and a proponent of the juror-voter match, shrugged his shoulders when asked about another potential Cooper veto.

“I can honestly say I have no idea what he’s going to do,” Cleveland said.

Caroline Fry of Democracy North Carolina told the committee that the bill was an attack on state voters and contributes to election misinformation.

“This bill’s rationale is rooted in disproven claims that North Carolina’s voting rolls are full of undetected non-citizens,” she said. “It was done to get us talking, once again, about President Trump’s ‘big lie’ that the 2020 election was stolen.

“This bill is a dog whistle to white Americans that immigrants – specifically Black and Brown immigrants – are destroying our democracy.”

Cyber Ninjas CEO refuses to testify at congressional hearing on Arizona ‘audit’