While the news last week focused on reports of Russian interference in US elections, Republicans in North Carolina were busy subverting democracy at home.
What began as a special legislative session to help victims of Hurricane Matthew quickly turned into something very different when the GOP-controlled legislature hastily passed a series of bills stripping incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of his constitutional powers. Most noteworthy, Cooper will no longer get to appoint a majority of members to the state board of elections or 100 county boards of elections, and the state board will be chaired by a Republican in all even-numbered years—i.e., any time there’s a major congressional, statewide, or presidential election. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the legislature, this is a guaranteed prelude to future voter-suppression efforts. The bill also makes it harder for the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Democratic majority, to review future challenges to election-law changes. Outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill 48 hours after it was first introduced.
In addition, Republicans reduced the number of public employees the governor could appoint—from 1,500 to 425—prevented the governor from appointing members to boards of state universities, and required the governor’s cabinet picks to be confirmed by the legislature. These moves have been described as “a brazen power grab,” but they are more akin to a coup.
Republicans have turned North Carolina, previously one of the most progressive states in the South, into a laboratory for voter suppression and offered a disturbing preview of what’s to come under Trump. The legislative coup is merely the latest in a series of outrageous and illegal actions by the North Carolina GOP to undermine democracy in the state.
First, after taking power after the 2010 election for the first time since 1870, North Carolina Republicans gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts by resegregating the state politically in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Federal courts have already struck down two congressional districts for racial gerrymandering and ordered new elections for 28 General Assembly districts next year. In other words, the legislature that stripped power from the next Democratic governor was elected by illegal means.