Ten years ago, the Republican majority of the North Carolina General Assembly unveiled and swiftly enacted a bill to restrict voting and rig elections that critics quickly and aptly dubbed the “Monster Voting Law.”
A lot of that law was ultimately struck down as unconstitutional after a federal court found that it targeted Black voters for discrimination with “surgical precision.” Yet the political right has never really backed off its overarching strategy for voting and elections — an approach that traces back to the Reconstruction era when the Democratic Party was the principal home of white supremacists.
Distilled to its essence, the strategy is to make it harder for people who are expected to vote for progressive candidates to cast their vote. And today, given the 180’s the two parties did on matters of race in the second half of the 20th century, that means it’s Republicans who are trying to limit participation by Black voters.
Veteran Republican Party strategist Carter Wrenn admitted as much in 2016 when he told the Washington Post: “Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was.”
Young voters are also a top GOP target. This fact was made painfully clear in 2013 when Republican legislators repealed without plausible explanation a statute that had made it possible for teens to pre-register so that they would be automatically eligible when they turned 18.
In recent years, the voter suppression strategy has taken on several guises. The aggressive push for laws requiring voters to display a photo ID to cast their ballot is the most visible, but other tactics — limiting early voting and voting by mail, removing voting sites from college campuses and lower-income neighborhoods, and of course, gerrymandering voters of color to minimize their collective electoral impact — have been regularly employed.
All of which brings us to 2023 — a time in which the North Carolina GOP, having secured more complete control of the state and federal courts, is taking yet another bite at the apple. Think of it as a Monster Voting Law 2.0.
The new bill — written with evident inspiration from Cleta Mitchell, the disgraced lawyer who helped spearhead Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election — would create burdensome barriers for people who vote by mail and unnecessarily complicate the popular option of same-day registration.
That Mitchell’s influence would help produce such a measure comes as little surprise. Mitchell, who participated in Trump’s infamous November 2020 phone call to the Georgia secretary of state in an effort to “find” votes that would have produced a Trump victory in the Peach State — she lost her position in a big, high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm in the aftermath — now resides in North Carolina and has made a pro-MAGA election law agenda her occupation.
In April, the Post reported that Mitchell – a board member of the far right, Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation (a group that also includes arch-conservative North Carolina financier Art Pope) – “told a roomful of GOP donors over the weekend that conservatives must band together to limit voting on college campuses, same-day voter registration and automatic mailing of ballots to registered voters.”
North Carolina Republican legislators deny that Mitchell participated directly in the drafting of their new bill, but it’s impossible not to see her fingerprints all over it. As Will Doran and Laura Leslie of WRAL.com reported on June 2:
“Indeed, there’s no apparent evidence that Mitchell wrote the text of the bill. The documents do show that her group got much of what it wanted — sometimes down to the specifics.”
- requiring voters who use same-day voter registration to be limited to a provisional ballot
- making it easier for self-appointed members of the public to challenge mailed ballots
- requiring a verification of signatures of those who vote by mail
- ending the grace period that has traditionally been used to allow for counting mailed ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day.
Now add in that new state budget proposals from GOP lawmakers include other Mitchell/MAGA priorities (including barring North Carolina’s participation in a multi-state election administration group known as the Electronic Registration Information Center), and the fact that those budgets fail to provide election officials with adequate resources to run our elections – much less to rapidly implement a bevy of new changes – and there can be little doubt about what’s going on here.
Like Carter Wrenn years before, Jim Womack, a longtime arch conservative political operative and ally of Mitchell put it bluntly when he told WRAL last week that “There was an argument that said it’s a good thing for conservatives if more people vote. I fundamentally disagree with that.”
The bottom line: As with gerrymandering, efforts by political groups to shape election laws to their likely benefit are nothing new in America. But as is also the case with gerrymandering, when such efforts suppress the ability of people to exercise their rights as citizens, they are simply wrong and a blatant subversion of democracy – whichever political party is behind them.
NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.