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Why make voting hard? To reduce voting as a credible way to make democratic decisions

North Carolina’s hit parade of voter suppression marches on, now that the GOP has overridden Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 749, with tight ballot-receipt deadlines and extra signature scrutiny for mail-in voting, plus extra identification for same-day registrants. Both rules especially affect people of color and young voters who register on voting day and vote by mail at higher rates.

Maybe politicians who become legislators don’t want deliberate debate and democratically-determined decisions. Or maybe even actual democracy.

Rather than an election-day postmark, ballots must be received by poll-closing, which could invalidate many votes, due to delivery variation. New rules about same-day registration—extra identification and throwing away ballots of registrants whose mail comes back as undeliverable—make it harder to register during an early voting period. These rules especially affect the young and people of color.

Tight turnarounds for mail-in voting make no sense, when there’s little to no evidence of electoral fraud. The practice dates from the Civil War, but Republicans seem to think it’s a scam, a partisan ploy designed to steal their votes.

But even before the 2020 election, during Covid, absentee voting was on the rise. The only scam afoot is the GOP’s systematic efforts to undermine democracy.

Mail-in voting includes signature verification, drop boxes in safe locations, and address confirmation. A Washington Post analysis found few (0.0025 percent) possibly fraudulent votes in the 2016 and 2018 elections. And, according to The Hill, in 20 years and 250 million mail-in votes, there were 143 criminal convictions.

Significantly, the law also shifts county and state election board appointments from the governor to legislators; House speaker, Senate leader, and minority party leaders in each chamber would each appoint two members, replacing the current five-to-three, governor-selected appointees.

Such deadlocked,bi-partisan boards are a gridlock guarantee. Deadlocked boards are figuring as prominently in partisan politics as in corporations. Corporate deadlocked boards are designed to keep a CEO entrenched. What should we infer from the GOP’s political move?

Maybe gridlock is the goal. Suppose members deadlock on election certification; if legislators are called to decide, the Republican majority rules. District maps, currently being re-drawn, may also be GOP-gerrymandered. Theoretically the new configuration could avoid partisan advantage, through healthy debate and compromise.

In reality, the deadlock ensures tied votes on decisions, with legislators stepping in to make the call. Is that what we want? One-party rule? Republicans have veto-proof majorities as well as a N.C. Supreme Court majority of 5-2 after last year’s election.

Compromise and democratic deliberation seem forgotten and forsaken; certainly they seem like pre-Trump notions. Maybe some legislators have forgotten such skills and why they matter to voters.

Or, maybe politicians who become legislators don’t want deliberate debate and democratically-determined decisions. Or maybe even actual democracy.

Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Greensboro News & Record and the Hendersonville Times-News before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an anthology of literary short stories that probe Americans' complicated relationship to firearms. (University of New Mexico Press, 2017.)

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