Raleigh, N.C. — Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis was elected to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday not because North Carolinians support his policies but because of changes to state voting laws that affected who cast ballots, the NAACP said Thursday.
Tillis defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan 49 to 47 percent, or about 48,500 votes out of almost 2.9 million votes cast statewide, according to unofficial results.
Putting his own spin on the election results that saw gains for conservative candidates throughout much of the nation, state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said Tillis' "narrow victory" was a repudiation of his policies, not a validation of them.
Barber said there were widespread reports of voting problems – the State Board of Elections said the election ran rather smoothly – and the shortened early-voting period and the elimination of same-day registration affected thousands of North Carolina voters.
"The magnitude of the problem may not be far from the margin of victory (for Tillis)," he said.
The NAACP planned to send letters to Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory later in the day, asking them for a sit-down meeting to discuss backing off "extremist policies" and becoming more inclusive in their governing.
Both Tillis and McCrory adopted conciliatory postures on Wednesday after a campaign season that was mostly negative. Tillis said he looks forward to working with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill, while McCrory said the GOP must "govern with humility."
Barber also criticized Democratic candidates for distancing themselves from President Barack Obama and policies that have carried the party in recent years, such as universal health care.
"This gives perception of running scared rather than running for something," he said. "You reinforce in the minds of voters that you are incapable of addressing the issues confronting the nation because you will not even stand up for the very things you fought for."
Still, he found positives in the election results, such as large turnouts, and said the activities of the Forward Together movement would continue.
"(The) movement does not live and die by elections," he said. "Our movement does not hinge, does not get discouraged, does not get depressed, does not fall back and does not retreat based on one election, one candidate or one party. We will continue the struggle in the courts, in the streets (and) in the legislature."
Noting the civil rights struggle took years to show results, Barber said the NAACP and other groups have a long-term vision for the "Moral Monday" protests they have staged at the General Assembly over the past two years, voter registration drives and other efforts.
"We have to stay consistent," he said. "We're in this for the long haul."