This week, North Carolina Republicans continued to hunker down on policy legislating bathroom use: HB2, which requires people to use public restrooms in accordance with the sex listed on their birth certificate, looked headed for defeat, but lawmakers failed to repeal the legislation.
Writing in the News Observer, elections expert Andrew Reynolds points to the battle over the law as a sign—one of many—of the decline of North Carolina's democratic process. Reynolds, who's traveled around the world overseeing elections from Afghanistan to Sudan to Yemen, helped develop a method to measure the quality of elections around the word. And he argues that if North Carolina's elections were rated using that framework, by some measures the state would be on par with some authoritarian countries.
"When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy," Reynolds writes.
He points out that by merely eking out a 50 percent win, one party—in this case Republicans—takes 100 percent of the power in the legislature, while Democrats are left with zero. Furthermore, he points out, a fully functioning democracy does not constrain rights based on born identities. "However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens." And, of course, he points to Republican efforts to limit the executive powers of the governor now that a Democrat has been elected.
"When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy," he writes. "When a wounded legislative leadership, and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon."
Reynolds suggests that North Carolinians recognize they no longer live in a functioning democracy and undertake massive reforms to re-establish the democratic process.
"Practically we need to address the institutional failures which have cost us our democratic ranking – districting, equal access to the vote and the abuse of legislative power. An independent commission is the sine-qua-non of democratic districting (no democracy in the world outside of the U.S. allows the elected politicians to draw the lines)," he writes.
"Voter registration and poll access should make voting as easy as possible and never be skewed in favor of any one section of society. Last, elected officials need to respect the core principles of democracy – respect the will of the voters, all the voters and play the game with integrity."