clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

North Carolina Republicans’ naked bid for more control over elections, explained

The GOP-dominated state legislature wants more power over the 2024 contest.

A man fills out a ballot at a voting booth on May 17, 2022 in Mount Gilead, North Carolina.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Last week, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a striking new bill that could, under the right circumstances, empower them to weigh in on the state’s election result if the presidential race is contested in 2024. It’s a major change that could threaten voting access — as well as the state’s democratic process.

The legislation in question would give the North Carolina state legislature the ability to decide who gets to sit on local and state election boards, instead of the governor. For roughly the past century, governors have selected the five members of the state election board (usually appointing three members from their own party and two from the opposition). They’ve also picked the leader of each county board, while local officials chose the other county board members.

Under the new bill, instead of having five members, local boards would have four members, and the state board would have eight members. Both would be split evenly between the two parties, and chosen by the majority and minority leaders of the state House and Senate.

This arrangement could lead to gridlock if the election boards tie regarding a potential result. There’s currently a lack of clarity about how to resolve ties, and the House and Senate have yet to resolve differences in their versions of the bill. The House version of the bill gives the legislature the power to decide ties in the state elections board, which could give it control over decisions like whether to certify the results of a presidential election.

Democrats have expressed concern Republicans in the chamber could use the new policy to try to ensure the state’s electors back the GOP candidate, regardless of who wins the state’s presidential election. Such a move would run afoul of federal law as established by the Electoral Count Act, which was updated following the January 6 insurrection, likely triggering court challenges.

The legislation could have serious consequences for voting rights, too.

As Ari Berman explains for Mother Jones, the regional election boards are in charge of determining how many early voting sites will be offered in their districts. If they have a tie vote, it falls to the state board to decide whether to approve the county board’s plans. The bill would lower the threshold needed for the state board to reject a county’s plans, making it more likely that rejections happen. If a plan isn’t approved, a county would then have the number of early voting locations mandated by state law: one.

That could severely limit people’s ability to vote in populous areas, and would likely disproportionately affect Democratic supporters: They both tend to live in more urban areas, and are more likely than GOP voters to cast ballots early.

The bill’s prospects of becoming law are quite strong. Already, a version has passed both the House and Senate. And although Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is likely to veto it, North Carolina Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, allowing them to override any veto. Additionally, even if the bill is challenged in court, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court could well uphold it.

North Carolina’s bill is part of a larger trend

North Carolina is one of several GOP legislatures working to give themselves more say over how elections are administered and how people are able to vote.

Wisconsin lawmakers, who are displeased with how Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe handled the 2020 elections, which Trump lost, are attempting to remove her from her position. In Georgia, Republican lawmakers are also reviewing the performance of election officials in the heavily blue Fulton County, after giving themselves the ability to do so under a 2021 law. Additionally, Louisiana and Arkansas are among the places that have considered requiring local authorities to get any election changes implementing federal law approved by state legislatures.

There have been dozens of bills targeting voting rights in different states as well, including legislation in Ohio that would curb people’s ability to vote by mail and legislation in Wyoming that gives people less time to vote early.

Such changes could have an outsize impact in North Carolina, and other battleground states where federal elections have been decided by tight margins in recent years. Since they could be decisive in presidential and Senate elections, Republican legislatures’ actions in swing states, in particular, could significantly shape national policy, and could even pose a unique threat to democracy.