Voting Rights Reforms are Long Overdue
I will fight the brutal GOP assault upon voting rights in North Carolina
August 8, 2016
By Art Sherwood
Democratic Candidate, N.C. Senate District 45
Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties
North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the Raleigh Republicans have launched an assault upon voting rights in North Carolina not seen since before the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Congress in 1965.
While such a statement would have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago, the evidence supports this conclusion. The recent federal court ruling against North Carolina’s Voter Identification Law, the current court challenge by North Carolina Common Cause and others against the General Assembly’s gerrymandering of congressional districts, and the attempt to disenfranchise students from the early voting process on the campus of Appalachian State University are all startling – yet blatant – assaults upon voting rights by McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s Voter ID law, passed in 2013 by Republicans, is unconstitutional. Judge Diana Motz wrote, “Because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
As the Charlotte Observer reported, “The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election. It restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect.”
We thank heaven for the courts, but we cannot risk allowing this sort of shenanigans to continue. They will, so long as the GOP controls the General Assembly and the governor’s office. Citizens of the United States should not have to petition the courts to exercise their most fundamental right, especially 146 years after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 96 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and 51 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Yet, they do.
As the courts have declared and the Republicans themselves have said (see below), they have intentionally disenfranchised black voters through the Voter ID law and gerrymandering.
I believe the people deserve better. They deserve representatives in Raleigh who will vigorously defend their voting rights, not come up with schemes to nullify voting rights. It is my view that elected officials are charged with representing all of the people. They certainly shouldn’t be in the business of selecting the people that will vote for them. It’s supposed to work the other way around.
Hence I support the following campaign reforms:
- Appointing independent, nonpartisan panels to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts without regard to party or race;
- Term limits;
- Easing ballot-access restrictions for so-called third parties;
- Efforts by students, faculty and the administration at Appalachian State University to have the One-Stop or “early” voting precinct placed at the Student Union.
Time to end partisan gerrymandering
As reported by capitol reporters Lynn Bonner and Jim Morrill, “Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and House redistricting leader, said at a meeting that he wanted the maps drawn ‘to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.’”
This is shameful. Fortunately, these remarks are being used by the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause and others to file suit against Lewis, Mecklenburg County State Senator Bob Rucho and other legislative leaders, Governor Pat McCrory and the State Board of Elections. According to the report by Bonner and Morrill, N.C. Common Cause Executive Director Bob Phillips said, “Perhaps for the first time ever in North Carolina, state legislators have freely and publicly admitted that they gerrymandered for rank partisan advantage.”
Phillips added, “That open admission was done because the courts have placed limits on racial gerrymandering, but have left unanswered the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is allowable. We believe our case can finally make clear that gerrymandering of any kind violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters.”
To be fair, Mr. Phillips has been waging this fight since the Democratic Party controlled the North Carolina General Assembly. So, the tendency to seek partisan advantage through gerrymandering is common to both political parties. However, the statement by Rep. Lewis suggests that the GOP-led gerrymandering wasn’t “politics as usual;” rather, it reveals a cynical disregard for the spirit of the law and suggests that the “Party of Lincoln” is doing all it can to reverse the cause for which President Lincoln died – equality for all. Besides, even though the Democratic Party has done it in the past does not make it right. When we regain the majority – and in time, we will – then the Democratic Party must demonstrate that it stands up for democratic principles and repudiates “politics as usual.” Supporting independent panels accomplishes that.
So, as Mr. Phillips and others have been pointing out for years, the only way to ensure that North Carolinians can live and vote in congressional and legislative districts that are drawn fairly is to appoint independent panels to draw those districts. Hence, I support the lawsuit by North Carolina Common Cause and will work with Mr. Phillips and others to ensure that independent panels draw our congressional and legislative districts.
Even should the plaintiffs prevail, and many are hopeful that they will, we must still be sure that the letter and the spirit of the law will be obeyed. The Raleigh Republicans have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to ensure this. When I am in the State Senate, voters will not have to wonder where I stand on this vital topic.
Term limits comes up often on the campaign trail. This concept is one that has been debated since the founding of the Republic. Therefore, it is clearly an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. For instance, I see the value of not limiting a person’s term when that person is a true public servant. We can all think of mayors, legislators, congressmen, congresswomen and senators who have had long and distinguished careers as elected officials.
Indeed, I still believe such people exist. However, because of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, the influence of money has been so corrupting upon the political process that the power of incumbency draws cash like moths to a flame. By one simple legislative act – a law limiting the terms of elected officials – we can substantially mitigate the mammoth influence of money on our political process. This may need to be coupled to changes in the legislative term for senators, to mimic the federal processes.
The question of allowing third parties access to the ballot in North Carolina has also come up on the campaign trail. It seems that it is a legitimate concern of many. At the conclusion of the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference held in Charleston, W.Va. in April 2015, attendees – representing dozens of social and environmental justice organizations from throughout Appalachia – identified ballot access for so-called “third parties” as an essential step in improving the lives of Appalachia’s residents. I embrace the conclusions of those community leaders seeking greater political representation, and respect the many people throughout the district that have told me the same thing.
It might seem counter-intuitive for a candidate of a major party to welcome more competition. However, as a Democrat that believes my party offers the best policies for North Carolinians and all Americans, I am confident that the power of our ideas will win out in the end.
It is also a basic case of fairness. The United States prides itself on its republican form of government. “We the people” have our voices heard through our elected representatives. It’s not fair to voters, nor to the value third-party candidates bring to the political process, to exclude parties from the ballot. To limit ballot access is, by definition, to disenfranchise a portion of voters.
I have more confidence in our process and our people than to place such restrictions upon them.
Encourage new voters by supporting ASU students
In July, the Watauga County Board of Elections was unable to come to a unanimous decision in its vote to set a one-stop or “early” voting location on the ASU campus. As a result of the vote – which must be unanimous to pass – the decision must now be made by the North Carolina Board of Elections. A hearing has not been scheduled as of this writing, but is expected soon.
According to the online edition of the Watauga Democrat, “Board Chairman Bill Aceto, a Republican, submitted a plan that would include Legends as a one-stop early voting site on the Appalachian State University campus to replace the site at the Plemmons Student Union.” According to the report, “Board Secretary Nancy Owen, a Republican, voted in favor of the plan, but Democratic elections board member Stella Anderson voted against.”
The newspaper also reported that Jalyn Howard, the incoming ASU student body president, said “We only recommend the student union. I don’t see anywhere else on campus that will be suitable. I don’t think there is any other solution to this problem – the administration and the students have said: ‘The student union is it.’”
I concur with Jalyn. We rightfully should be outraged at this purposeful attempt to keep young people from voting. Let us not forget that many of these students are voting – or hope to vote – for the first time. Is it any wonder they are cynical about politicians when they actively work to rob them of their vote? That is why I stand in solidarity with the ASU students. I pledge to fight with them to ensure their early voting location is where it is most convenient, where the students and chancellor want it, not where the Republicans want it.
What the Republicans on the Watauga County Board of Elections are trying to do is suppress the votes of ASU students and faculty. This is just part of the ongoing assault upon our most basic civil liberty by Governor Patrick McCrory and the Republicans controlling the North Carolina General Assembly. They have conducted a relentless assault upon voters’ rights over the last several years, as has been made evident by the numerous court rulings and challenges.
One of the main reasons I filed for office was so that I could help eliminate voter suppression and gerrymandering. So, I support open and convenient access to polling places for all voters. I strongly oppose and will work to eliminate burdensome requirements designed to suppress voter turnout. I will work tirelessly to stop gerrymandering by supporting the establishment of an independent commission to draw congressional and General Assembly districts. I also support term limits, campaign finance reform and easing ballot access for third parties.
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