August 23, 2017/Press

GOP-led Attack on Board of Elections is Latest in Koch Bros.-funded War on Voting

Raleigh – With the North Carolina Supreme Court set to hear Gov. Cooper’s challenge to Republican-led attacks on the Board of Elections, it’s important to understand how this Republican attempt to undermine the Board of Elections fits in the Koch network-funded, right-wing attacks on voting rights.

Right-wing groups like the Koch brothers and ALEC have long pushed traditional voter suppression methods, like strict voter ID laws and curtailing early voting hours, to boost Republicans’ electoral chances. As ALEC’s founder stated:

“I don’t want everybody to vote …  As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Now, parallel to those efforts, NC Republicans are trying something new: combining two vital agencies, stripping a Democratic governor of his power to appoint members to oversee our elections, and tying that new agency up in perpetual gridlock. This gridlock will prevent the new agency from taking any action to enforce law or crack down on voter suppression.

These efforts have the same goal as ALEC and the Koch Bros. – to rig the system so Republican candidates have a better chance at the polls. In other words, NC GOP’s attacks on the Board of Elections are just the latest tactic in the ALEC-directed, Koch Bro.-funded war on voting.

“The GOP attack on the Board of Elections is just the latest in the Koch brothers, far right war on our elections and voting rights,” NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said. “Republicans and their special interest groups like ALEC and the Koch network want to rig the system for their benefit. While the tactics may be new, the goal is not.”

BACKGROUND

Charlotte Observer: A judge, a Vegas phone call and the NC GOP legislative effort to remake the judicial branch
By Anne Blythe
August 22, 2017

NC Policy Watch: One of the most important state Supreme Court cases in years
By Rob Schofield
August 22, 2017

Salon: This is the Kochs’ right-wing coup: Deny voting rights, flood politics with dark money, capture the courts
By Michael Keegan
April 3, 2016

The Nation: Why the Koch Brothers and ALEC Don’t Want You to Vote
By Ari Berman
November 8, 2011

Charlotte Observer: A judge, a Vegas phone call and the NC GOP legislative effort to remake the judicial branch
By Anne Blythe
August 22, 2017

Doug McCullough was five months away from his deadline for mandatory retirement from the state Court of Appeals bench when the chairman of the state Republican Party gave him a call.

Democrat Roy Cooper would become governor in several weeks and Robin Hayes, the former U.S. congressman on the other end of the line, wanted McCullough to consider resigning early from his elected seat so Republican Pat McCrory could appoint a replacement in the waning days of his administration.

The Republicans not only had lost the governor’s office with Cooper’s victory. They also had lost a majority on the state Supreme Court in the November elections.

That phone call from North Carolina’s Republican Party chairman over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend last year illustrates how the political focus on North Carolina’s courts has sharpened in recent years and shows no signs of easing anytime soon.

In the months since that 15-minute conversation that left McCullough with concerns about what’s happening to the judicial branch of government, the General Assembly, the lawmaking body for which the judiciary provides checks and balances, has made many changes to the courts, both large and small.

This past legislative session, the Republican-led legislature made all judicial elections partisan, even the district courts that handle low-level crime, traffic infractions and divorce, custody and child support cases. Now, with lawmakers due back in Raleigh to correct unconstitutional gerrymanders of state House and Senate districts, many court organizations are on high alert about the potential for more change.

During this year’s regular legislative session, lawmakers focused more closely on the courts. They reduced the size of the appeals court by three seats with at least two Republicans close to retirement age and the Democratic governor in a position to appoint replacements. They decreased the number of emergency judges by nearly 70 percent and cut funding to legal aid organizations that help low-income people. They made a $10 million cut to the state attorney general’s office budget, forcing Democrat Josh Stein, the former state senator who was elected to the office in November, to cut 45 positions and lay off career attorneys. Republicans said the cuts allowed them to shift funding to the hiring of more assistant district attorneys across the state.

“When I came here in January, I didn’t anticipate that I’d be up on the House floor so often speaking out against changes to the judiciary,” said Rep. Joe John, a Wake County Democrat serving his first year in the General Assembly and former state Court of Appeals judge.

John has been so concerned about the legislative efforts to change the courts that he has held town halls to inform people and get their feedback.

“Generally speaking, the people are really — it’s not so much angry — it’s dismayed that the legislative branch of government is trying to control all branches of government,” John said.

What has troubled the freshman legislator is how many of the changes are proposed and adopted without study or input from those who work in the justice system everyday.

He worries that partisan politics are driving the changes as some of the lawmakers have acknowledged their attempts to reshape judicial districts to be more favorable to Republicans.

“That’s the fundamental problem,” John said. “These folks view the judicial branch as a political branch and it’s just not. If they keep going the way they’re going, they’re going to destroy democratic process.”

Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and Republican who has been critical of some of the recent actions by the General Assembly, said he was worried about how some of the changes to the courts were being proposed.

“To me, one of the troubling aspects is that a lot of it seemed to be internally generated by the legislature. It wasn’t in consultation with the chief justice or the people in the court,” Orr said. “I don’t get any sense that this is a collaboration. It seems like this is just somebody or some small group saying, ‘Let’s make these changes because it’s a good idea.”

The lack of explanation and inclusion of a wide group, Orr said, can leave the impression that politics motivates much of the effort to shape a court system where “in the greater scheme of things most cases don’t have a political angle to them.”

“People, special interest groups, political entities have historically tried to, if not overtly, subtly game the system to shape the courts,” Orr said.

Read more here.

NC Policy Watch: One of the most important state Supreme Court cases in years
By Rob Schofield
August 22, 2017

One of the most important matters to come before the North Carolina Supreme Court in a long time will be argued next Monday in Raleigh. At issue is nothing less than the basic structure of two vital North Carolina government agencies, the fairness of future elections and whether the state’s duly elected governor will be able to exercise the powers that voters thought they conferred upon him last November. As a practical matter, the case is also likely to have an enormous impact on the broader hard right policy agenda that state lawmakers have been aggressively inflicting upon the state since 2011.

As the interest of a national voting rights organization like the Brennan Center indicates, the importance of this case goes well beyond the specifics of a power struggle between a governor and a legislature. As the “friend of the court” brief filed by Brennan Center lawyers argues persuasively, the law in question represents a blatantly unconstitutional and sadly typical attempt by conservative forces to alter and manipulate basic electoral rules so as to “entrench” themselves in power:

If you have any doubt of legislators’ intent, look no further than the simple and almost laughable fact that the new scheme would guarantee Republican control of the chairmanship of the new state board created by the law and all county elections boards during all years in which there is a presidential, gubernatorial and council of state election. As another friend of the court brief in the current case – this one filed by former Governor Jim Hunt and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell – points out: “Beneath its veneer of bipartisanship…the Act’s unmistakable intent and effect is to calcify the current General Assembly’s partisan preferences by depriving the Governor of ‘enough control’ over the new State Board to perform his duty to faithfully execute the law.”

Read more here.

Salon: This is the Kochs’ right-wing coup: Deny voting rights, flood politics with dark money, capture the courts
By Michael Keegan
April 3, 2016

While voting rights, money in politics and our courts may feel like three separate issues, they are fundamentally related — especially when you take a look at who’s been behind the attacks.

Though couched in the misleading rhetoric of protecting “free speech,” preventing “voter fraud,” or “giving the people a voice” on the next Supreme Court justice, the right’s attack on our democracy is about one thing: consolidating political power among those already at the top. Some right-wing leaders don’t even try to hide the real goal. Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and founder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (which, by the way, has also been funded by the Bradley Foundation), once plainly stated: “I don’t want everybody to vote …  As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

The rash of restrictive voter laws recently passed in the states means that Weyrich’s vision is increasingly coming to life, with detrimental effects. A new study from political scientists at UC San Diego found that strict voter identification laws “skew democracy in favor of white Republicans,” depressing the turnout of people of color. The study showed, for example, that states that had strict voter ID laws saw a 10.8 percentage point drop in turnout among Latino voters, as compared to states without such restrictions. Those who don’t want everyone to vote might cheer the news of suppressed participation, but for anyone who wants a democracy where everyone has an equal voice regardless of race, background or political affiliation, it’s serious cause for alarm.

Read more here.

The Nation: Why the Koch Brothers and ALEC Don’t Want You to Vote
By Ari Berman
November 8, 2011

Today residents of Mississippi will decide whether voters must produce a government-issued ID in order to cast a ballot and voters in Maine will choose whether to keep or overturn a new law banning election day voter registration, which had previously been on the books since 1973.

These votes occur amidst the backdrop of an unprecedented, Republican-led war on voting. Since the 2010 election, at least a dozen states controlled by Republicans have approved new obstacles to voting—mandating government-issued IDs, curtailing early voting, restricting voter registration, disenfranchising ex-felons. Five million voters could be negatively impacted by the new laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which found that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities”—in other words, those most likely to vote for Democrats.

A key component of the GOP’s campaign has been orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which receives substantial funding from the Koch brothers. ALEC drafted mock photo ID legislation after the 2008 election and in five states that passed ID laws in the past year—Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin—the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC.

A new investigation from Brave New Foundation, in conjunction with the Advancement Project and amplified by a host of progressive groups, outlines ALEC’s influence in the war on voting and spotlights the $245,550 in campaign contributions the Koch brothers have given to politicians supporting new voter ID laws, such as Scott Walker and Rick Perry. “Folks like the Koch brothers are attempting to ensure that as few people of color and as few young people show up as possible,” says NAACP President Ben Jealous.

Read more here.

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