One can imagine a scenario in which it might be possible to take North Carolina Republican leaders seriously when they argue that a strict voter ID law is necessary to protect the “integrity” of North Carolina elections. If, for instance, those same leaders had long evinced support for rigorous integrity and transparency in all other key electoral circumstances – say, with respect to the way voting districts are drawn and the ways in which investigations of electoral and campaign finance malfeasance are conducted – the demands for voter ID would ring a lot less hollow.
To be clear, they would still be wrong; strict voter ID will not, ultimately, enhance the integrity of our elections. But at least Republicans and their conservative ideological allies could have maintained a colorable claim of intellectual honesty and consistency.
The talking point might go something like this: “We know it’s unlikely to help, but when it comes to honest elections, we’re going to be absolutists. We take the position that elections and their public oversight should be rigorously honest, nonpartisan and transparent at all times and in all circumstances – even to the point of making it harder for honest people to vote. We therefore support any law or policy that can eliminate the tiniest chance of fraud and/or partisan influences in our electoral processes and demand that all aspects of election law making and enforcement be an open book to the public.”
Of course, one doesn’t have to look far at all to confirm that there is no such consistency in the real world positions staked out by Republican politicians and politicos. To the contrary, if the past eight years of GOP dominance of the North Carolina General Assembly have proved anything, it is that all electoral decisions made by the current crop of leaders are linked to but one overriding objective: to aid in the election of Republicans.
This rather obvious truth should have been confirmed to any rational observer several years ago when Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger suddenly abandoned his longstanding support for nonpartisan redistricting (he had sponsored such a proposal for years while in the minority) as soon as his party won majority control of the legislature.
If Berger’s convenient conversion from redistricting reformer to gerrymandering lover wasn’t sufficient proof of the real Republican motives, however, Rep. David Lewis’s explanation of how gerrymandering should work ought to have been. Lewis, of course, infamously explained in open debate on the House floor that the 13 congressional districts he had helped draw were designed to elect a minimum of 10 Republicans in an evenly divided state, only because he couldn’t figure out how to draw them in order to assure the election of 11 Republicans.
And then there is the way North Carolina Republicans have attempted to rig the oversight of elections and the enforcement of corruption laws. This has been most obvious, of course, in the repeated efforts to alter the state and local boards of elections – labors that, among other things, rather laughably assured that Republican appointees would always chair local boards during even-numbered years.
Last week, the lack of good faith in election oversight reared its ugly head yet again – this time, ironically, in a GOP-written bill that would restore the Board of Elections to the structure that was in place prior to the governorship of Roy Cooper and the repeated Republican efforts to limit his power.
As a weekend Charlotte Observer editorial explained, the bill – which currently sits on Governor Cooper’s desk – would add a new and problematic level of secrecy to Board of Elections investigations. This is from the editorial:
“State elections officials tell the Observer editorial board that the bill appears to prevent investigations and their findings from ever becoming public, short of criminal court proceedings. The board conducted more than 200 investigations in 2018. While many of those were minor, many were not, and it appears all, including those in which legislators had to pay a fine (unless it’s appealed), would have been kept secret under this bill.”
How’s that for bringing some rigorous integrity to the state’s electoral process?
All of which brings us back to the issue of voter ID. It’s true that North Carolina voters approved a vaguely worded constitutional amendment on the subject last month, but it’s also true that most of them undoubtedly took such action out of a commitment (albeit misguided) to electoral integrity – not a desire to elect more Republicans.
Now, however, Republicans have taken that honorable act and run with it in their usual partisan fashion by passing legislation – vetoed over the weekend by Gov. Cooper – that would implement a restrictive voter ID statute that’s sure to disenfranchise thousands of mostly poor and minority North Carolina voters.
If, as expected, Republicans override Cooper’s veto this week, they will no doubt do so under the guise of protecting “the integrity of our elections.” In truth, however, it will be just the latest installment in a long and discouraging saga of cynical election game playing.