Guest columnists: Left, right agreement on voting success, path forward

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 14, 2021

By Bob Hall and Rick Henderson

We are liberal and conservative leaders with decades of experience at policy organizations.

We often disagree, but after looking at data from the 2020 election, we agree on this: North Carolina’s unique mix of procedures made voting easy and cheating hard, and helped produce a record turnout despite a deadly pandemic.

Republican legislators in many states are now pushing a host of voting restrictions under the banner of stopping fraud. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are backing a massive election bill that would overrule local laws under the banner of stopping disenfranchisement.

We disagree on parts of the massive House Resolution 1, but agree that, as the U.S. Constitution says, state legislatures are the proper arena to make changes. It’s unfortunate that claims of fraud and voter suppression have become weaponized for partisan gain because real problems should be objectively examined and addressed.

We hope our lawmakers in Raleigh — especially leaders of the Republican majority who set the agenda — will avoid hyperbole and look at the facts as they consider election changes.

The numbers show that voters of all persuasions benefited from reforms adopted in North Carolina over the past two decades and from emergency measures added because of COVID-19.

In fact, Republicans benefited the most; state law in 2020, even as administered by majority Democratic boards of elections, helped pro-GOP voters overtake the anticipated blue wave and win nearly all the closely contested races in North Carolina:

• More Republicans than Democrats used same-day registration; they showed an ID, registered and cast a retrievable ballot during early voting.

• More Republicans than Democrats successfully used a provisional ballot because they were in the wrong precinct or had not updated their registration.

• A bigger share of registered Republicans than Democrats voted on the last Saturday of early voting, a day legislators had cut but restored in 2020 with extra hours.

• Security measures (e.g., to prevent double voting and resolve protests) built confidence for everyone – and secured a Republican victory in the tight contest for Supreme Court chief justice.

• Expanded recruitment of poll workers and federal funding allowed counties to open larger voting places – and this expansion helped Republicans vote safely in person and vastly outnumber Democrats.

• Democrats dominated mail-in balloting, largely because President Trump vilified the practice; nevertheless, 200,000 NC Republicans voted by mail, thanks in part to a “cure” process that let voters submit missing information to validate their eligibility.

Overall, North Carolina’s election system performed well, balancing access with security.  It’s a system where Republicans and Democrats set policies and a professional staff manages the details.  State lawmakers are right to continually review policies and hold administrators accountable, but they should also listen to recommendations from state and local election officials because there are literally hundreds of moving parts to the election process.

Some fragile parts of the process needed emergency fixes during the pandemic. Legislators should evaluate these measures for possible permanent changes, such as the countywide recruitment of poll workers and a uniform process for allowing voters to provide missing information on mail-in ballot certifications.

Erecting new barriers for eligible voters is the wrong path; it can even backfire by handing opponents a turnout-boosting rallying cry against Jim Crow suppressors.  The better path is to focus on delivering positive policies and a coherent message that inspires new voters and sustains supporters of your party.

Even with the record turnout in 2020, more than two million North Carolina citizens still did not cast a ballot. Whoever gets them engaged will win.

Bob Hall is the former executive director of Democracy North Carolina. Rick Henderson (@deregulator), former editor of the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal, publishes a NC-focused newsletter at deregulator.substack.com

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