This being North Carolina, that wasn’t the only chicanery the GOP had in store this week. Republicans have long had the state’s high court in their crosshairs precisely because it’s sought to rein in their worst abuses. In one recent attempt to tilt the court in their favor after Democrats won a majority on the bench in 2016, the GOP transformed what had previously been nonpartisan elections into partisan races, meaning candidates would be identified with party labels on the ballot.
They also eliminated judicial primaries, forcing all candidates to run together on a single ballot, in the hope that multiple Democrats would split the vote against GOP Justice Barbara Jackson this fall. However, the move utterly backfired: When filing closed, Jackson faced only one Democrat … but also another Republican challenger, Chris Anglin.
So of course, Republican legislators have moved to strip Anglin of his party label.
Anglin had switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican shortly before filing, leading Republicans to accuse him of being a Democratic plant intended to siphon off votes from Jackson to help Democrat Anita Earls prevail. To remove that threat, Republicans just passed a bill that would only show the party affiliation of candidates who had been registered with that party at least 90 days before filing to run, which would force Anglin to run as an unaffiliated candidate.
The arbitrary and blatantly partisan move is just the latest in a long line of changes Republicans have made to give themselves a leg up in court elections. However, the absurdity of trying to change the rules in the middle of an election to counteract an election scheme that backfired on the GOP simply takes the cake.
Gerry Cohen, the former legislative counsel, immediately cast doubt on whether this latest bill was constitutional, arguing that Anglin would have a great chance of convincing a court that his right to due process had been violated by the capricious nature of this change. And if Anglin prevails, his legal battle can only help raise his profile, which is unlikely to help Jackson's candidacy.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper quickly vetoed this latest set of GOP legislation, but Republicans can easily override any vetoes thanks to their gerrymandered majorities—which is exactly how they’ve kept passing their barrage of anti-democratic laws over Cooper’s constant objections. While litigation likely stands a good chance at restoring Anglin's party label, a lawsuit over ballot captions could result in the GOP’s amendments not appearing on the ballot this fall.
● Michigan: Infuriating: Emails released in an ongoing federal lawsuit have confirmed that Michigan Republicans giddily engaged in naked gerrymandering when they redrew election districts after the 2010 census. One Republican staffer bragged about being able to "cram ALL of the Dem garbage" in populous southeastern Michigan into only four congressional districts. Another revealed a GOP aide was effusive over the 9th Congressional District "giving the finger" to Democratic Rep. Sandy Levin.
These emails don't just display the GOP's eagerness to gerrymander, they also reveal their overall strategy: pack Democrats into just five congressional districts while guaranteeing Republicans would win the other nine—even though Michigan is a swing state that leans blue. And they knew they could lock in that advantage for a long time to come, writing that they’d “spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond.” Indeed, that disparity held up even when Democratic candidates for the House won more votes statewide in 2012 and 2014.
This gross disregard for democracy could boost the chances of the plaintiffs seeking to have these maps thrown out for violating voters' rights, and these emails have given even more fuel to activists seeking to put a measure on the ballot this fall that would create an independent redistricting commission to stop future gerrymandering.
But Michigan's Republican-majority state Supreme Court might soon throw that initiative off the ballot thanks to a lawsuit spearheaded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which has bankrolled the campaigns of some of the very same GOP justices on the court.
Fortunately, progressives have yet another way to fight back against Republican gerrymandering by electing Daily Kos-endorsed civil rights lawyer Sam Bagenstos to the state Supreme Court this fall. A Bagenstos win would help flip the court to a progressive majority, which in turn could uphold efforts to put independent redistricting on the ballot. It might even follow the lead of Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court and find that gerrymandering violates the state constitution.
Republicans have twisted Michigan's districts to lock in an unfair advantage, but there’s a lot we can do to restore democracy.
● Florida: On Tuesday, a federal district court struck down a rule that Republican Gov. Rick Scott's administration had put in place in 2014 banning early voting sites on college campuses. The court found that this rule discriminated against young citizens in violation of the 26th Amendment, which sets the minimum voting age at no older than 18. Republicans had barred colleges from opening early voting locations in a transparent effort to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning students by making it much less convenient for those with limited time and transportation options to cast a ballot.
Scott has yet to say whether he will appeal the decision. However, if the ruling is ultimately upheld, colleges around the state could see their early voting sites restored, giving students more equitable access to the ballot box.
● Iowa: On Wednesday, a state court temporarily blocked a number of the voting restrictions that Republicans passed in 2017 after they gained full control over state government for the first time in decades. The ruling restored the early voting period from 29 days to the original 40 days for this fall's elections; stopped Republican election administrators from publicly implying that voters must present identification this year; and suspended measures that made it more difficult to request an absentee ballot and ensure it would be counted.
While the case is still ongoing, this development is a positive one for plaintiffs and suggests the court will ultimately decide in their favor. However, Republicans have promised to immediately appeal this ruling to the state Supreme Court, where they hold a one-seat advantage.
● California: A new report finds that automatic voter registration is already impacting hundreds of thousands of California voters since it went into effect in late April. The secretary of state's office has announced that more than 259,000 people became newly registered to vote from April through June, and another 120,000 citizens updated their registrations with new addresses. Those figures, say the secretary of state, represent almost three times as many new registrations and re-registrations compared to the number processed in the first three months of the year.
This most recent period did coincide with state’s competitive June primary elections, so we can’t say how many of these new and updated registrations are a result of the new policy, rather than attributable to an organic increase based on interest in upcoming elections. However, evidence from Oregon, which was the first state to enact automatic registration back in 2015, suggests the measure could significantly decrease the number of eligible citizens who aren't registered to vote.
● 2020 Census: A lawsuit seeking to stop the Trump administration from adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 census cleared an initial hurdle on Thursday, when a federal judge declined to dismiss the plaintiffs' case. The judge also indicated there was evidence suggesting administration officials had violated the Constitution by acting with the intent to discriminate against Latinos and other immigrant groups by introducing a question that experts say is unnecessary and will deter participation in communities of color.
The Trump administration has claimed the Justice Department initiated the request for citizenship data so it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act. However, that assertion was shown to be a mere pretext after documents were discovered that revealed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had pushed the DOJ to ask for the change, not the other way around, as he had claimed in his sworn testimony before Congress in March.
This case is just one of several that civil rights proponents have filed in order to stop the Trump administration from destabilizing the census by adding its citizenship question, and there's still a long way to go before the plaintiffs might prevail. However, if they can prove that Trump acted with discriminatory intent in violation of the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, that will give them the best chance of blocking this question.
Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be on hiatus during the week of Aug. 3. We’ll return the following week.