In Raleigh, GOP fears losing grip on absolute power


Sunday, November 27, 2016

When one political party wields absolute power, it can find giving up even some part of it difficult — even if that’s what the voters have decided should happen. In the wake of the Nov. 8 election, the Republicans who control North Carolina’s state government are finding it hard to give up power.

The GOP was easily able to maintain its veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans also nabbed a few Council of State seats they’ve never held, including those at the departments of Public Instruction and Insurance. But in two key offices — governor and state Supreme Court — the Republican incumbent either lost or will lose when all votes are finally tallied and certified.

Republicans aren’t taking either of the losses well. In fact, they’re desperately trying to cling to power at the governor’s mansion, and may be angling to try and hang on to it at the state’s highest court as well.

Over the past two weeks, Gov. Pat McCrory and his GOP supporters have thrown everything they can think of against the wall to try and overturn the will of the voters who decided that Democrat Roy Cooper should be the state’s governor. Cooper was the clear election day winner — he finished ahead of McCrory by nearly 5,000 votes — and he’s only built on that lead in the two weeks since as counties finish counting their provisional and late absentee ballots. Unofficial results of those counts from the State Board of Election last week showed Cooper now leading McCrory by 7,700 votes with only about 22 counties left to report their provisional ballot counts. 

McCrory, however, has refused to concede the election to Cooper. Instead, he and N.C. Republican Party operatives have unleashed a torrent of outrageous and irresponsible attacks on the conduct of the election, claiming it was rife with illegal voting by convicted felons and people impersonating dead people. Republicans have made these claims despite the fact the three-member boards that oversaw the Nov. 8 election in all 100 counties have 2-1 GOP majorities. 

Republicans’ claims of election improprieties have been debunked in almost routine, comical fashion. After McCrory’s campaign claimed that it had evidence of voter fraud in more than 50 counties, it quickly became evident it had no such thing. Numerous county election boards, including the one in Camden where the McCrory campaign said it had uncovered voter fraud, said they had no idea what the campaign was talking about because no one had challenged any voter’s fitness to cast a ballot. And in counties where allegations of voter fraud were actually filed, nearly all the protests were dismissed for a lack of evidence.

Discredited though they may be, these claims by McCrory’s surrogates have a clear intent — to create the impression that the election was so fraudulently conducted that its result should be in doubt. Republicans apparently believe if they can succeed in doing that, they can then appeal the election to the Legislature, where the GOP supermajority would anoint McCrory the winner of the Nov. 8 election. Under state law, one of the grounds for allowing lawmakers to consider an appealed election is a showing that there were errors in how the election was conducted or how votes were counted. That’s why Republicans have persistently tried to call into question the 94,000 early votes cast in Durham County, where a technical problem led to their late reporting on Election Night. There’s no evidence fraud was involved in the votes’ counting. That hasn’t stopped McCrory’s supporters, however, from claiming that there could have been. They believe if they can make the claim of potential fraud loudly enough, they can create the impression that actual wrongdoing happened.  

Republican lawmakers are clearly thinking about the prospect of deciding the governor’s election themselves. Our own state Rep. Bob Steinburg in fact discussed the possibility of that happening during an interview last week. Steinburg said he would favor having lawmakers decide the election only if the evidence of voter fraud was compelling. We wonder how high the bar for compelling has to be, however, when a political party is committed as the Republicans are to holding onto absolute power in Raleigh.

The legislature is also where Republicans could go to try and hang onto power at the state Supreme Court. In the Nov. 8 election, Democratic Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan defeated incumbent Republican Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court. With control of their agenda at stake, it’s widely speculated that Republicans intend to use the upcoming special session in December for Hurricane Matthew aid to create two new associate justice positions. Because McCrory could then make those appointments — even if he ended up being defeated in his quest to hang on to the governorship — Republicans would gain a 5-4 advantage on the court.

Top Republicans in the House and Senate claim the idea is just a rumor and not something being actively considered. But they haven’t categorically ruled it out.

We’re with state Rep. Erica Smith-Ingram on this one. Having seen up-close what she described as GOP “overreach” on numerous other matters, the Northampton Democrat says of Republicans’ vow not to pack the Supreme Court: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Lawmakers should never try to overturn the result of one election, much less two. But unfortunately that’s what they have the power to do when voters continued to give them absolute control of our government.