North Carolina's strange election

Photos from the 2017 HKonJ March in February, 2017. Photos by Jade Wilson.

Photos from the 2017 HKonJ March in February, 2017. Photos by Jade Wilson.

“The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” – Ronald Reagan

“If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” – NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer

In December, before Trump’s inauguration and his whirlwind of vengeful executive action, before counter-protests sprawled across the country, state Rep. Mickey Michaux stood on the red-carpeted floor of North Carolina’s lower house and blasted House Bill 17. From under a prodigious mustache, his hair slicked back, Michaux addressed the bill’s sponsor: “I don’t see why, because we’ve had a change in the governorship, you want to deprive the new governor of the power that all of our—“

Someone stood up in the audience and bellowed, “All political power comes from the people, Mr. Speaker!” Michaux paused, congressmen looked up in wonder. Soon, the galleries were erupting with defiant chants. State policemen deftly escorted the protesters out, arresting over a dozen.

The bill was designed, with its state-senate counterpart, to strip incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of many of his appointive powers before he even took office. Despite Cooper’s wickedly close election, the GOP retained supermajorities in both houses of the state’s legislative General Assembly. With no meaningful opposition, their rollback of gubernatorial powers easily passed: they mandated that the State and County Boards of Elections, which had until then been controlled by the governor’s party, be split evenly along bipartisan lines and chaired by Republicans during election years; they required congressional approval of the governor’s cabinet; they drastically slashed the number of positions directly hired and fired by the governor; and they stripped Cooper of his power to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina’s campuses.

Michaux considers the moves “an attack on democracy in North Carolina.” North Carolinians flocked to the General Assembly to sit in on the days of legislative hearings for what they called the “Carolina Coup.” Crowds at times stood witness; at times they protested loudly. After being kicked out of hearings repeatedly, demonstrators lined the entrances, chanting “shame, shame, shame” at the cops parading arrestees by, knocking on the locked doors to the legislative chambers. More than fifty protesters were taken into custody. A man in a Santa Claus outfit was among them. A woman turned to her lolling baby amid a Thursday protest to tell her, “we’re going to be kicked out! Oh, yes we are!”

That baby may as well learn the lesson early, for North Carolina’s partisan politics are moving—like the nation’s—toward the extremes. The power “redistribution” orchestrated by North Carolina’s GOP flies bluntly in the face of American traditions of democratic rule and respect for electoral results. But it was hardly a flash in the pan: the laws were only made possible by a skewed district map guaranteeing overwhelming Republican control of an evenly split electorate; they follow logically on a longer-term project by state conservatives to redefine whose votes count.

Disregard for the messy business of democracy is a practiced habit: having crept into the state’s margins years ago, it had worked its way to the government’s core. As the same tendencies worm their way onto the national stage, it is critical to understand how North Carolina’s democracy came undone.


North Carolina Republicans had a long wait for their chance to flex political muscle. After Reconstruction, conservative Democrats controlled the state for decades. But Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s signature on the Voting Rights Act in 1965, ensuring ballot access for Black Southerners, and Republican Richard Nixon’s follow-up courtship of unhappy Southern conservatives, led Whites to abandon the Democratic Party in droves. Still, in North Carolina, thanks to maps drawn by Democratic legislators, Republicans’ foothold in the state legislature lagged behind their ascendant popular support.

In the early 2000s, under Democratic control, the General Assembly passed a series of reforms designed to expand ballot access in the state: increased early voting opportunities, for example, automatic registration of high-school students, same-day voting registration, and admission of provisional ballots from out-of-district voters. Voter participation skyrocketed, Black voter turnout in particular: in 2008, boosted by Barack Obama’s name on the ballot, Black voting rates surpassed those of White North Carolinians.

North Carolina swung blue for a president for the first time since Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976. By last year, North Carolina had jumped to 13th among states in eligible voter turnout, up from 43rd two decades ago, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University.

But Obama’s victory sparked the meteoric rise of the Tea Party movement, and in 2010, riding an ailing economy and vociferous anti-Obama rhetoric—alongside customarily low Democratic turnout in non-presidential elections—Republicans retook both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870. The new majority promptly set to work securing their electoral bounty. The strategy was two-pronged: Republicans in North Carolina would draw themselves advantageous maps, and they would work to lower voter turnout of unfriendly voting blocs.

In 2010, the Republican Party’s Project REDMAP focused campaign money and efforts nationally down-ballot to state legislatures tasked with redistricting. In North Carolina, the effort was a wild success. The Republican State Leadership Committee, who masterminded REDMAP, sent a letter to state lawmakers after the election, anticipating that “the ongoing redistricting process will impact the legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond,” offering “a team of seasoned redistricting experts that we will make available to you at no cost to your caucus.” The experts did their job, contorting the lines just so: the following election cycle, Republicans won 51 percent of the vote for the North Carolina House of Representatives and 77 of 120 seats, a veto-proof “supermajority.” In the North Carolina Senate, 53 percent of the vote garnered 33 of 50 seats, also a supermajority. And in the U.S. House of Representatives, less than half the total votes cast won Republicans nine of 13 seats.

“It was very fortunate for state Republicans that they won their majority in the year when the political district lines were redrawn,” says Bob Hall, executive director of progressive watchdog group Democracy North Carolina “So they could gerrymander their own districts to protect themselves, essentially insulate themselves from voters. That kind of set the stage for anti-democratic politics that have just continued.”

Gerrymandering is a long-standing American tradition, and North Carolina Democrats certainly bloodied their hands during their lengthy period of control; given access to bountiful data and computing power to crunch it, though, the 2010 map was particularly effective.(1) Most districts became uncompetitive, as the new lines packed Democrats (and especially Black Democrats) into a few districts, and ensured Republican control of the rest. This has political consequences, as Tom Ross knows well. Ross, who served as president of the University of North Carolina for five years before losing his job to the partisan hatchet in 2015, presides over the nonpartisan Volcker Alliance studying good governance. He believes unrepresentative districting makes government less effective. “I think that when you have a group of elected officials in either party—and right now we have them in both parties—that are essentially in safe districts, if they listen to the voters at all, they listen to the voters who think mostly like they do,” Ross said. “And not hearing all the voices can sometimes not give you a clear understanding of where the public is. It leads over time to more extremism in both parties, and that makes it more difficult to compromise and find solutions that are good for the state and for all people.”

As North Carolina was being divvied up into reliable electoral parcels, Republicans also worked to limit who could even vote in them. The Tea Party victory brought along with it renewed focus on the issue of voter fraud. To conservatives, voter fraud is a national bête noire, tainting the electoral process; to liberals, attempts to battle illicit voting mostly prevent eligible voters from casting ballots. For those who believe, or at least espouse a belief, in voter fraud, the solution is to make it harder to vote. But the suspicions are nothing new; some White citizens began worrying that Black Americans would cheat as soon as they were belatedly granted the right to vote. In that light, the recent efforts to “protect elections” look quite a bit like Jim Crow-era restrictions dressed up in new language.

For in-person voter fraud, the type targeted by North Carolina’s voting restrictions, almost never occurs. While North Carolina was expanding its voting process, George W. Bush’s Justice Department began a national crackdown on illicit voting. Attorney General John Ashcroft, apoplectic at having lost his 2000 Senate race to a dead man, launched a Voting Access and Integrity Initiative, claiming “votes have been bought, voters intimidated, and ballot boxes stuffed.” In the five following years of intensive investigation, prosecutors charged about 120 people total. Most of those charged had misunderstood eligibility rules or mistakenly filled out registration forms; virtually no evidence turned up of widespread voter fraud schemes.(2)

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Nevertheless, the effort metastasized into state-level pushes to address the issue. After the Tea Party’s 2010 landslide, half the states in the country passed laws making it harder to vote. By 2015, hundreds of new voting restrictions had been introduced, spanning 49 states. North Carolina was in the vanguard. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2013—allowing states with troubled voting histories the leeway to change their voting laws without federal pre-approval for the first time in nearly 50 years—the legislature took advantage, passing what was at the time the most restrictive voting law in the nation. Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed it. By limiting early voting and same-day registration, and by requiring state-issued photo ID to register—but not accepting student IDs, even from state schools—the law affected especially groups that tend to vote Democratic: minorities, the poor, and students.

For Representative Michaux, the issue is personal. His career in the General Assembly began in 1973 in the heady afterglow of the VRA’s passage, when hurdles to Black participation at the ballot box were being wiped away. He grew up Black in an era of laws designed to bar people who looked like him from holding office. Now, as he watches what he calls “retrogression” in voting rights, he grows melancholy. “House Bill 589, you cannot forget that number,” Michaux told Scalawag. “That’s the bill that took away everything that so many of us worked hard for. Every bill improving voting rights in this state has my name on it somewhere or other. And to see them just completely thrown out, thrown down the drain—it hurts.”

By 2013, North Carolina Republicans—having been elected, it must be noted, quite fairly—had both shunted votes into the most favorable electoral containers and trimmed the group of potential voters in their stilted grid. In the service of being anti-Democratic, they became anti-democratic. The voting law, on top of earlier decisions unpopular with the state’s left, sparked the first Moral Monday protests in the spring of 2013. Led by Rev. William Barber II, the twinkle-eyed, gravel-voiced President of North Carolina’s NAACP chapter, demonstrators of all races marched weekly on state offices in Raleigh to protest the North Carolina GOP’s agenda, voting restrictions especially, and organized civil disobediences. The spark caught: for weeks, then months, then years, the movement gained steam, crisscrossing the state to turn political issues into moral ones.

Protesters disrupted proceedings at the statehouse, resulting in a steady stream of trespassing arrests and some wider media attention alongside. Afterwards, the arrestees regularly had their charges dropped. Much of the next three years proceeded to script: Republicans, with ironclad and assured control of the state, implemented their plans, while Democrats largely belly-ached and protested through unofficial, extracurricular channels. At the state level, there was little Democrats could do, but a habit of public grievance took root.


Even by the state’s heightened standards, the lead-up to the 2016 election in North Carolina was particularly turbulent. In March, North Carolina came under national fire for passing the H.B. 2 “bathroom bill” dictating who could use which gender’s facilities; Governor McCrory became the law’s public face. In July, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s voting restrictions, finding they targeted Black citizens “with almost surgical precision.” The following month, the gerrymandered districts were also ruled unconstitutional, as race was found to play an overwhelming role in their shape.(3) But state Republicans had come to believe, it seemed, their own mistruths about the need for voting restrictions.

North Carolina GOP Chairman Dallas Woodhouse, a dynamo in perpetually ruffled button-downs and short black hair that changes with his mood, was a ubiquitous figure throughout election season. To his credit, Woodhouse is a good sport, happy to defend his party’s maneuverings to the press, and is personally agreeable. He is not, however, a champion of the franchise. When the federal court order on the omnibus voting restrictions came down, Woodhouse wrote an email to state Republicans decrying the decision, maintaining that “we are under no obligation to offer more opportunities for voter fraud.” As such, he urged everyone to get in touch with their County Board of Elections members to remind them of their duty as “partisan [R]epublican appointees” in shaping the conditions of early voting, used largely by Black voters.

Emails obtained by Reuters show that Republican officials lobbied at least 17 county elections boards to reduce early voting during nights and weekends, times that tend to be used more by Democratic voters; in some cases, the pressure worked. Early voting in the state closed with the Black vote down 8.5 percent from 2012 levels, and the “Caucasian” vote up 22.5 percent, according to a contented press release from the North Carolina GOP. Obama, of course, was no longer on the ticket, which surely accounts for some of the downtick. But the sustained attention the GOP gave early voting seemed to have paid dividends.

Targeting “voter fraud” dampened the Black vote. But because Black voting patterns were equated with opportunities for voter fraud, dampening of the Black vote was itself the strategy aimed at quelling “voter fraud.” The North Carolina GOP had decided, by 2016, that fraudulent votes were Black votes. Whether this is due mostly to race or to the fact that Black citizens reliably vote Democrat is beyond the scope of this essay, but the upshot remains. (Dallas Woodhouse and the state GOP did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

When the election results came in, Donald Trump won a more-comfortable-than-expected victory in the presidential election, and Republican Senator Richard Burr held his seat. Republicans maintained their vise-grip on North Carolina’s national House seats and on the state legislature, both of whose districts were drawn by the General Assembly in 2010.

But McCrory was booted in favor of Roy Cooper, with pundits suggesting H.B. 2’s influence. Republicans retained a veto-proof majority in the legislature; the state’s laws remain their plaything. Still, Democrats seemed to have clawed back toward having a voice in state affairs, even if that voice’s veto was symbolic at best.

But change can hurt, and Governor McCrory wasn’t happy to have to go house-hunting. His campaign, alongside a coterie of concerned citizens, launched challenges to the voting process in fifty-two counties in North Carolina, more than half. The pettiest complaints were what journalist Barry Yeoman terms “voter defamation”—scattered votes allegedly cast by dead people or ineligible felons or twice-voting out-of-staters, many of whom in North Carolina turned out to have done nothing wrong.

Further accusations included medium-scale fraud operations—as alleged against a Black-run Super PAC in rural Bladen County—and massive suspicion. In Durham County, voting-machine issues required by-hand tabulation of ballots, a process which meant delays for around 94,000 votes delivered to the State Board of Elections late that night. On Election Night, in his non-concession speech, when McCrory mentioned a “major new vote coming out of Durham, North Carolina in the last forty minutes,” the crowd booed lustily. One member, picking up on the cue, yelled back “they stole it! They stole the election!” (Durham is the most liberal county in the state; its electorate is nearly forty percent Black.)

Even as the individual challenges came to naught, Tom Stark, North Carolina GOP General Counsel and concerned Durham County resident, protested the legitimacy of the late-arriving Durham votes. In a Durham County Board of Elections hearing—where the protest was unanimously dismissed by the majority Republican Board—and again in an appeal to the State Board, Stark cast doubt in frantic sweeps.

Nearly every piece of the voting process came under fire for its potential for hijacking: voters, voting officials, machines, memory cards. Paranoia had its day: the State Board of Elections upheld the protest along party lines, citing “irregularities” that deserved a second look. They ordered a recount of the Durham votes even while their general counsel advised them the order did not quite pass legal muster, with no evidence suggesting any part of the voting process had actually gone awry.(4) McCrory conceded during the recount, without waiting for the tally to be completed. The initial vote totals had been correct.

A cynic, then, would have little trouble imagining that the protest was made not because McCrory and Stark believed there to be any grave error in the vote count, but simply to have the recount ordered. Stark, bespectacled, bejowled, aw-shucks in his casual concern for the sanctity of elections, had generated a flurry of press about Durham’s electoral “irregularities,” and consequently lodged suspicions in the minds of those paying only passing attention. Regardless of the immediate goals of the voter challenges, then, the challenges were conscripted in the larger project to cast doubt on the validity of North Carolina’s elections.

It is fair to wonder, moreover, who is taken to belong in the body politic by those who would limit the vote. Expanders of the franchise—for whom, to be sure, more voter participation is often politically advantageous—believe that answer to be “everybody.” Those who would limit it, though, have various criteria for eligibility in mind. Over time, those criteria have been land, white skin, a penis, money, and abstruse knowledge of cherry-picked readings. Most Americans still agree, at least by acquiescence, that a felony conviction should preclude casting a ballot for a time or forever.

Where once the denial of suffrage was based on a belief that certain categories of people were less than fully human, a charitable reading now is that membership in particular groups becomes a proxy for political leanings, and these groups are obstructed at the ballot box as a matter of expedience. But the beauty and the curse of democracy is the reckoning that its constituents make with each other: we are all one body and must relate to one another accordingly. The effort to deny the vote to political opponents bespeaks a different sort of bargain, between only those in power and those who voted them there, to hell with the rest of ’em.


Pat McCrory conceded on Dec. 5, 2016, declaring it “time to celebrate our democratic process.” (He also mentioned, Socratic to the end, “continuing questions that should be answered regarding the voting process.”) He previewed a “special legislative session to help our citizens and communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew and by the current wildfires in the western region of our state.” In closing, he said, “I encourage everyone, now more than ever, to respect all of our public servants and the offices that they were elected to hold.”

Just a week later, the special session to address the natural disasters snowballed into another special session to address the disaster of North Carolinians electing a Democratic governor. There followed three days of legislative kangaroo court. On Dec. 14, both houses of the General Assembly convened to propose their final bills of McCrory’s tenure. Protesters, thanks to a swirling (but untrue) rumor of a plan to pack the state Supreme Court, showed up by the dozens and found that, not an hour before the close of a special session called just twenty-four hours prior, Republican congressmen—with zero support from across the aisle—introduced the bills to neuter the governor’s appointive power.

Two days later, after sustained protesting and gratuitous congressional recessing, McCrory signed the bills, celebrating our democratic process and showing great respect for all of our public servants and the offices they were elected to hold.


There are two obvious ways to interpret the legislature cooping Cooper, and the demonstrative response. In the first, propounded by the protesters, the legislature has become undemocratic, losing touch with voters, advancing instead its own interests; the protesters, in this telling, represent The People against a proximate but aloof oligarchy, in a morality play with everything at stake.

To hear it from the legislators, though, or from North Carolina GOP Chairman Woodhouse, this is all in the proverbial game. The public hubbub is sour grapes from electoral losers. Democrats took similar, if less drastic, measures in the ’70s and ’80s, as was pointed out ad nauseam in both chambers; liberals are mistaking—willfully or through ignorance—simple party politics for something grander, and thus fundamentally missing the point.(5) As Dallas Woodhouse told “Meet the Press” in December, “This is what happens when you have divided power in a state that, since King George’s time, loathes executive power. Wrong is always in the eye of the beholder of whose ox is getting gored.”

But the GOP’s opponents are not so naïve as Woodhouse thinks. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill political science professor Andrew Reynolds, whose Electoral Integrity Project rated post-election North Carolina no longer a fully functioning democracy, told Scalawag: “If that is what politics looks like, then we need to change the rules of the game. Because it is clearly pernicious to the state of government in North Carolina! If it continues to be this chicken match, this trade-off of the two sides in power, then we are never going to dig ourselves out of this very polarized hole. It’s a cycle to the bottom.” Reynolds notes that the Democrats are far from guiltless, but calls the General Assembly’s 2016 power play “excessively larger” than anything that’s come before. “All of this,” he notes, “stems to districting. All of this stems to the fact that the incentives on the legislature are not to appeal to the middle ground.”

Here Michaux, who is now 81, speaks like a politician from a different era. “When Cooper won, [legislative Republicans’] attitude reminds you of what Mitch McConnell said about Obama: ‘we’re going to work to make sure that this is his one and only term, and anything he puts in here we’re going to negate.’ That same attitude exists here. Well, you’ve got to think beyond that, and think about what’s being put out there for the good of the people, rather than being angry because you don’t have anybody you can control in the governor’s mansion.”

 
 

There has been no substantial philosophical defense offered for the special session legislative measures. As Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall says, “Dallas Woodhouse looks at it as a game. He gets kicks out of winning versus losing. When people get caught up in that very small world inside that building, inside the political bubble—they start to view everything as you’re either with us or you’re against us.” That hyper-adversarial logic lays the foundation on which an anti-democratic political project can flourish. If all politics is simply oppositional, then there is no philosophically sound disagreement, there is only power, its pursuit, and the ability to wield it. The disempowerment of opponents becomes nothing more than smart strategy; of course their votes are watered down and discounted, little wonder they are excised from the electorate. The party in power begins to identify its partisan interests as intertwined with those of the state. In that framework, Democratic votes in North Carolina—especially from traditionally maligned groups—become fraudulent votes, and consolidating power in the face of a disappointing election is justified as in the state’s best interest.

The polarization, in turn, further prevents communication across the aisle, precluding reference and deference to shared values. Democracy North Carolina’s Hall tells of his group’s dismissal as a liberal mouthpiece by the right-wing powers that be: “Democracy North Carolina was very critical of Democrats when they were in power. We filed complaints against a number of them, their donors—we helped put one of their Speakers, Jim Black, in prison for corruption. Nobody ever accused us of ‘you’re Republicans, you’re just stooges for the Republicans.’ Now, when we criticize Republicans, they say ‘you’re just being a stooge for the Democrats.’ There’s nothing in between.” After publishing his op-ed about North Carolina’s flailing elections, Reynolds was flooded with threats.


Michaux comes from a time when state-sponsored repression was as American as apple pie, in plain view for the world to see. Now, in his ninth decade, he is watching a rollback toward the bad old days. He shakes his head: “The thing that I tell folks, when I go out and speak to them, is: ‘You’d better watch out. Many of you don’t know where you are today, and how you got where you are today; don’t worry, it’s coming back to remind you. If you don’t know your history, it has a tendency to repeat itself. Racism is far from being dead.”

Democracy North Carolina’s Hall sees deep-seated fears of usurpation(6) as at root of the North Carolina GOP’s anti-democratic politics: “It begins in a kind of defensiveness. It seems to me that there’s a nervous anxiety that we’re about to lose control,” Hall says. “There’s not a graciousness, a sense of confidence that what we say is right, and if you think about it and we have time to argue about it, you’ll see the value of it. It connects to this cultural anxiety of White North Carolinians, and across the country, that you’ve got a Black guy elected to the White House, gay folks marrying—they’re losing control of their culture. They’ve gotten somewhat desperate, and they see it as a cultural war, as a political war.”

Under an outlook, moreover, wherein retributive justice is standard, there is a projected anxiety that comes from the buried sense of having done some wrong. In the American South, the great unspoken fear is that Black Southerners, after bearing generations of mind-bending violence, will take power and there will be hell to pay. If we don’t keep the Blacks down, worry the guilty-minded, then we will be the ones with the boot on our necks. The prophecy justifies injustice: fearing domination, conservative Southerners have long been happy to double down on a dominating style of politics that requires oppression of the sort that gives their fears added oomph. The erosion of voting rights is anxiously self-protective, a defense by way of attack.

Of course, if the prophecy is anywhere true, it is self-fulfilling. Any political action redefines the norms of the political process, as what is done becomes a model for what might be done in the future. Thus does ugly politicking sow the will for more of the same—the justification for the Republican legislature’s power grab, remember, was the memory of a perceived injustice decades ago. That snowball effect makes bad-faith politics the thorny beast they are: the health of a democracy depends on observing certain political norms—like, say, respecting the results of a gubernatorial election. When eroded, such norms cannot be easily recovered.


A federal court mandated that North Carolina redraw its federal and state legislative districts by March 15, 2017. That task will again fall to the state legislature. A newly conservative United States Supreme Court could well put the kibosh on the redistricting order, which is under appeal. But if it does proceed as planned, the map may look quite familiar, for while federal jurisprudence has slapped down egregious racial gerrymanders, it has been more generous thus far in allowing partisan considerations.

Looking further ahead, an editorializing author might argue that non- or bipartisan redistricting is one obvious and urgent fix for political polarization and poor governance in North Carolina and beyond. The process could begin to remedy a system that incentivizes using power to straightjacket the vote into prepackaged districts and effectively write off the members of the sure-to-be minority party in uncompetitive races.

Districting, though, is dry, math-ridden. For that reason, the University of North Carolina’s Professor Reynolds is not thrilled about the prospects of redistricting reform, not least because North Carolina Democrats still do not support it in force. “The trouble with districting is that, at the same time as being the most obvious remedy, it is the least sexy remedy,” Reynolds says. “You don’t get an Occupy movement, or a mass mobilization, on the basis of drawing maps. It doesn’t fire people up.”

Even if it did fire people up, districting reform is a technical solution unfit to solve the broader quandary of a fractured electorate whose representatives have nothing to offer their opponents but venom. The habit of disregard for democracy grew from distortions of the voting process to outright contempt for electoral results; designs for a more robust democracy must venture from outrage at results to outrage at process. It should be bad politics to disenfranchise voters and ignore their will.

Authoritarianism should not be, cannot be, must not be good electoral strategy. The stakes are high: nationally, a reflexively autocratic regime has also circled its wagons, declaring anyone in disagreement with any part of its agenda illegitimate. American democracy, imperfect though it has always been, was built on the hope that a shared vision of effective governance might unite disparate groups into a functional political body. Even when that vision wanes, there is opportunity for a newly positive framing of values to emerge, to galvanize and restore our body politic. Who knows—with Moral Mondays hard at work, that restorative vision may well grow from North Carolina’s red clay.


  1. Besides precinct-by-precinct voting histories and census data, political parties can now buy the same digital residue that online marketers use to target particular customers. Taken together, these give an incredibly precise spatial view of how people have voted and might vote in the future.

  2. Here, it may be instructive to keep in mind a top Bush advisor’s pooh-poohing of the “reality-based community” to The New York Times. “We’re an empire now,” the aide told Times reporter Ron Suskind in 2004, “and when we act, we create our own reality.”

  3. This is a tricky question. The Voting Rights Act, as interpreted in later iterations, encouraged the creation of districts that would allow candidates from sizeable minorities of a state’s population to get elected; such considerations ensure that race does in fact play a role in districting. However, when such districts become too densely packed with minority voters, they act less as assurances of minority representation and more as sponges to absorb minority votes, blanching the surrounding districts Whiter. The balance is delicate, but in North Carolina’s case it would be hard to argue that balance was the goal.

  4. Deeming unwanted votes “irregular” is an old electoral trick. Ari Berman, in 2015’s Give Us the Ballot, describes a challenge in Selma, Alabama by right-wing sheriff Jim Clark to his defeat at the hands of a moderate. The election was the first since the Voting Rights Act was passed, greatly expanding Black access to the ballot across the South. “The next day,” Berman writes, “Clark appeared before the Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee, which was controlled by segregationist hard-liners, and persuaded them not to accept six boxes of ballots from Black wards in Selma that overwhelmingly favored Baker. Of the eighteen hundred disputed ballots, more than sixteen hundred were for Baker. Without those votes, Baker would have to face Clark in a runoff. ‘The boxes were so infected with irregularities as to make it impossible to determine which were proper and valid ballots and which were not,’ said the Democratic chairman, Alston Keith.” That challenge, too, ultimately proved unwarranted and fruitless.

  5. State Representative Michael Speciale sees the protesters a third way, according to his Facebook page: as “a group of malcontent thugs who are likely paid and bused in to disrupt the business of those who represent the people.”

  6. In the crass parlance of our times, of being “cucked"