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Grading North Carolina’s Democracy

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

According to the 2022 State Democracy Report Card, North Carolina ranks 26th out of 50 and has an overall C grade. 

The report is a collaboration between the Let America Vote Action Fund and the End Citizens United (ECU) Action Fund, and it grades each of the fifty states based on three categories: Voting Rights Laws, Campaign Finance and Anti-Corruption Laws, and Democracy Subversion Protections.

The highest of these grades in North Carolina is a B for Democracy Subversion Protections, tied at 18th out of 50 states. Governor Roy Cooper (D) and Attorney General Josh Stein (D) are described in the report as “strong advocates for federal voting rights, ethics, and campaign finance legislation.” Gov. Cooper, for instance, vetoed legislation that would have limited absentee voting and curtailed the power of North Carolina election boards and officials. In another case, the North Carolina Supreme Court deemed a gerrymandered map made by the state legislature as unconstitutional, and this year, a special-master drawn plan will be used instead.

For Voting Rights Laws, North Carolina received a C grade, tying them at the number 30 spot. An appeals court ruling restored voting rights to tens of thousands of North Carolinians, all of whom were serving punishments for felony convictions and not currently incarcerated, granting them a voice in their democracy again. North Carolina also offers a lengthy early voting period and allows clerks to offer it on weekends. 

North Carolina’s lowest grade on the report was Campaign Finance and Anti-Corruption Laws, coming in at a D grade (40th out of 50 states). Currently, the state bars direct contributions from corporations to political candidates and contributions from lobbyists during legislative sessions. Gov. Cooper also vetoed legislation that would have granted protections for dark money groups to hide their donors just last year. 

Despite the measures to prevent corruption in the state, North Carolinians are still skeptical of their local governments and their ties to the corporate dollar. According to a 2021 Carolina Forward poll, two-thirds of North Carolina voters believe that corruption in state government is a “major problem,” and 4 out of 5 people said that “large corporations have too much power in the state legislature.”

The state continues to face legal challenges concerning redistricting maps for future elections, which includes a pending case in the US Supreme Court that threatens to upend how elections are run across the nation. Said case, known as Moore v. Harper, has the potential to validate the “independent state legislature theory,” which would set a precedent for states to have greater authority to gerrymander district maps and pass voter suppression laws. 

The US Supreme Court also ruled that Republican lawmakers can join a lawsuit defending a state voter ID law, and said legislation has yet to be deemed in violation of federal law. 

Additionally, Republicans from North Carolina and other states banded together to sue the State Board of Elections in an effort to prevent the extension of the fall absentee-ballot receipt deadline.

While legislators have passed some measures to protect the state’s democratic institutions and prevent their erosion, North Carolina has become a legal battleground to undo those efforts, which is one of the many reasons why the 2022 State Democracy Report Card ranked North Carolina in the lower half of states.