The NC GOP’s copycat crusade against voting rights continues

By: - June 21, 2022 6:00 am
Envelope containing voting ballot papers being sent by mail for absentee vote in presidential election

It’s a familiar childhood scene – perhaps even from your own. A group of cool, older kids engages in some kind of rebellious action or expresses a shared opinion on an issue of perceived import and soon thereafter, a younger sibling or friend, trying hard to keep up, attempts to mimic their behavior or statements.

The younger kid never gets it quite right, or often, even fully grasps the substance of the subject matter, and their behavior will likely be barely acknowledged by the older ones, but the exercise nonetheless makes them feel as if they are at least nominally a part of the gang and helps reenforce household/neighborhood attitudes and pecking orders.

For a modern, adult world example of this phenomenon in action, check out the ongoing efforts of North Carolina Republicans in the field of voting rights and “election security.”

For several years now, GOP politicians and their conservative allies in North Carolina have been banging a drum regarding the supposed desperate need to enact tougher rules governing access to the ballot.

Whether demanding a tough voter I.D. requirement, limiting the time window for voting by mail, or even ending the practice of pre-registration for soon-to-be 18-year-olds, Republicans have taken action after action to enact voting hurdles.

The weird thing about all this is that it’s hard to say what the real-world impetus for it could be. For more than a decade now, Republicans have prevailed in numerous statewide elections, gerrymandered their way to significant majorities in the state’s congressional and legislative elections, and watched as one of their own operatives – the late and infamous McCrae Dowless – committed one of the few incidents of significant voter fraud in modern state history. Actual incidents of fraud – save for the aforementioned GOP-authored scandal – have been essentially non-existent.

Nonetheless, to hear the conservative advocates for these restrictions talk, our state stands constantly on the precipice of electoral disaster – with large numbers of vulnerable immigrants and low-income people of color just champing at the bit to risk prosecution and jail by committing voter fraud felonies.

In many ways, the GOP crusade feels like a kind of copycat exercise. It’s as if North Carolina Republicans listen to their de facto leader, Donald Trump, blather on with his big lie about the 2020 election, and watch as their allies in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere pursue relentless campaigns to seize control of vote counting in their states and, think “we need to get in on this action!”

As Policy Watch reporter Lynn Bonner reported last week, the latest incident in this copycat campaign was launched last month when the North Carolina GOP issued a formal request to the State Board of Elections that it adopt a rule requiring county election boards to conduct signature checks on the thousands of requests they received for absentee ballots.

The Republicans say such a requirement is necessary to guard against potential illegal voters and even appear ready to take the matter to court if the board doesn’t rule in their favor.

As with previous such efforts, however, the request suffers from obvious and fatal flaws.

First and foremost, is that such a requirement would be both enormously burdensome on local boards and fraught with practical problems.

In recent years, as more and more people have voted by mail, the number of absentee ballot requests has grown sharply. How will local boards – entitles that already suffer from funding, staffing, and volunteer shortages – quickly and efficiently review the authenticity of hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of signatures?

More to the point, even if a process could somehow be put in place, how would it account for the simple fact that signatures change over time?

As Common Cause NC Executive Director Bob Phillips told Bonner, someone’s signature on an absentee ballot in 2022 may look nothing like the signature on the voter registration application they signed decades ago.

Does North Carolina really want to go down the road of making the request of every infirm retirement community resident to vote by mail the subject of review and debate?

But the bigger point to be made here is that, as with previous GOP voter suppression efforts, there is simply no evidence that such a requirement is remotely necessary. North Carolina already employs among the nation’s toughest rules when it comes to the actual casting of mail-in ballots by requiring a notary’s signature or the signatures and addresses of two witnesses.

To imagine – especially in the post-Bladen County era – that anyone could successfully mount a successful a scheme to impact an election by recruiting and employing enough people willing to risk prison by illegally forging signatures on physical absentee ballot requests (and then following it up on actual ballots) strains credulity.

The bottom line: In an era in which extravagant fantasies about election conspiracies have become the stock-in-trade of so many conservative politicians, advocates and TV talking heads, it’s perhaps understandable that North Carolina Republicans would try to mimic their perceived leaders and peers. Let’s hope, however, that election officials (and, if need be, the courts) recognize that such a desire is in no way an adequate basis on which to restrict a precious constitutional right.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.