Editorial: Legislators - Focus on huge voter turnout, not partisan advantage

Posted April 13, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2020 5:33 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Monday, April 13, 2020; Editorial #8529
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

Successful elections rest on two basics:

  • Providing every eligible voter abundant and accessible opportunities to cast honest ballots.
  • Assuring every honestly cast ballot is properly and fully counted.

The abysmal conduct of the primary election in Wisconsin raises doubts and is a warning. As went Wisconsin, will so go the nation in November? It is an incalculable tragedy to American democracy in the offing. It must be addressed now in North Carolina to avoid a Wisconsin-like debacle.

The Badger state primary last week was a tragic mess. It displayed with, inescapable clarity, an unrelenting determination by powerful political leaders to make it more difficult – not as easy and accessible as possible -- for eligible voters to cast ballots.

The sudden impact of the COVID-19 epidemic left Wisconsin elections officials with almost no time to prepare for the unique situation and assure polling places were properly staffed and safe for voters and workers.

In Milwaukee County the 517,000 voters had merely five polling places open. Normally there are 180. There were long lines, the typical wait to vote was nearly two hours. There were too few workers staffing polling places and questions remain as to whether mail-in absentee ballots were properly and timely distributed amid more than 1.3 million requests.  Instead of voters getting quick and accurate results, they’re waiting until today to learn what happened.

How come? Because Republicans determine – and publicly admit – that the only way they can win elections is to do all they can to DISCOURAGE people from voting. President Donald Trump was direct in expressing this view as he criticized recent coronavirus stimulus negotiations that sought to increase funding for absentee and mail-in voting options. “The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

We’ve seen more than our share of this in North Carolina. It is time to fix it.

Our state – for nearly a decade – has been ground-zero for just about every effort to sway election outcomes. It has been in:

  • Hyper-partisan gerrymandering that courts have repeatedly criticized and rejected as unconstitutional and denied millions of North Carolinians a fair voice in Congress and the General Assembly.
  • Cutting access to the ballot by efforts to limit polling places and moving them from places easily accessible to large number of voters, particularly on college campuses.
  • Mid-election changes to the order of candidates on ballots.
  • The elimination of non-partisan and publicly funded judicial elections.
  • Baseless challenges to local board of elections voter rolls.
  • Reckless allegations that some voters who cast ballots may have been ineligible.

It is an indisputable record of the current legislative leadership’s relentless pursuit to enshrine GOP domination – regardless of the will of the voters. Sen. Phil Berger and his staff are engaging in rhetorical hypocrisy and fact-twisting contending that those, like Gov. Roy Cooper who challenge their efforts to grab more power and tilt the law in their favor, are the wrong-doers. It is preposterous. When Cooper, a Democrat, seeks to keep the same authority over composition of state and county boards of elections that former Gov. Pat McCrory enjoyed, Berger tries to claim it “raises natural and legitimate suspicions about the motives of the Governor and the Board he controls.” There didn’t seem to be similar suspicions when Republican McCrory was appointing those boards.

What Berger and his fellow legislators need to do is enact legislation implementing the common-sense recommendations offered recently by Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the State Board of Elections.

  • Adjust absentee voting by mail so it is simple and easily available. As important, the legislature needs to make sure changes in state law help local boards of elections handle the very likely big increase in absentee balloting.

    Enact the needed adjustments to state law so there are both enough polling places and workers to staff early voting and election-day voting sites.

    Provide the money needed to cover costs associated with necessary changes in elections processes, the spike in absentee voting and assuring polling places and voting equipment are kept clean and safe to protect the health of poll workers and voters.

A June 23 Republican runoff primary in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District will provide the opportunity to put in place and determine the practicality and effectiveness of the recommended changes. It will also provide time to adjust before the Nov. 3 general election.

It is past time for our legislative leaders to end their obsessive quest for political advantage, no matter the cost to our democracy. In this coming election, the win they should be most concerned with is one that enables the most voters to cast honest ballots.

This election is NOT about preservation of Republican dominance in North Carolina. It is NOT about Democrats winning more legislative seats.

It is far bigger. It is about whether the voice of EVERY voter will be heard and whether democracy will prevail.​​​​​​

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR