After trying—and failing—to disenfranchise black voters on election day with strict voter identification requirements, Republican North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is now refusing to concede to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, who is ahead in the count by a small but significant (and growing) margin of 6,600 votes. McCrory is alleging—you guessed it!—voter fraud.
The race between McCrory and Cooper was extremely close (Donald Trump won North Carolina, a swing state, by a margin of about 177,000 votes), and McCrory would have the unpleasant distinction of becoming the first North Carolina governor to lose reelection. Gov. McCrory’s approval ratings dipped way down (to 37 percent in April) following his signing of controversial “bathroom bill” House Bill 2, which prevents municipalities from passing anti-LGBT discrimination laws and requires transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender on their birth certificate. In response, the NBA and NCAA pulled their basketball tournaments from the state and Paypal pulled out of a deal.
Republicans have alleged fraud in more than half of North Carolina’s counties, charges that Republican-controlled elections boards have largely rebuffed; this pushback illustrates, on a smaller scale, what may have happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected president rather than Trump, whose supporters came to believe the process was “rigged” (until he won). McCrory’s campaign made the increasingly standard GOP claim that dead people and felons voted and that people voted twice, and also called into question the 90,000 votes that came in late on election night from Democrat-heavy Durham County.
“There’s a direct correlation between the counties that were selected for challenges and the active participation of black political action committees,” U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat, told the Raleigh News & Observer. “This is targeting the African-American community and their participation in the election.”
“They’re silly, small in number, poorly researched and often defamatory,” a lawyer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told the New York Times of the Republican challenges. From the Washington Post:
In one county, an allegedly dead person who voted was actually alive. In another county, two alleged convicted felons were not felons at all. In another, an elections protest was thrown out after the GOP lawyer who filed it didn’t show up until after the hearing ended.
If the margin remains below 10,000 votes, either side can legally request a recount, but Cooper’s election count lawyer Marc Elias told the Washington Post that even if every challenged ballot was tossed, Cooper would still win. “There is nothing that Gov. McCrory or his legal team are going to be able to do to undo what is just basic math,” he told the Times.
They’ll certainly try, it seems: the Civitas Center for Law and Freedom, a conservative group, has just sued the North Carolina State Board of Elections in an attempt to delay its certification of the election results until it verifies all of the addresses of same-day registrants; Talking Points Memo reports that this could buy McCrory time, delaying certification for weeks longer than expected.
(UPDATE: Gov. McCrory has officially requested a recount, which can’t occur until counties have finished processing their votes—a process that has been delayed by Republican-filed complaints.)
Over at Slate, writer Mark Joseph Stern considered a chilling possibility: that Gov. McCrory is simply trying to cast a cloud of doubt over the election results in an effort to get the matter resolved via North Carolina’s legislature, which maintains a Republican supermajority (a possibility that Elias dismissed as unlikely but one that McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz refused to rule out):
North Carolina state law states that when “a contest arises out of the general election,” and that contest pertains “to the conduct or results of the election,” the legislature “shall determine which candidate received the highest number of votes” and “declare that candidate to be elected.” By alleging fraud, mishandling of ballots, and irregular vote-counting, McCrory is laying the groundwork for the legislature to proclaim that a “contest” has arisen as to “the conduct or results of the election.” At that point, it can step in, assert that McCrory received “the highest number” of legitimate votes, and “declare [him] to be elected.”
If this were to happen, election law expert Rick Hasen says that decision would “certainly” be reviewable by a federal court—although President Trump will eventually move to appoint his own judges to federal vacancies, of which there are currently at least 16 on the federal court of appeals.
Stern also highlights reports that behind the scenes, North Carolina Republicans are mulling whether to “pack” the state Supreme Court from seven to nine members, ostensibly to offset the progressive judge that voters overwhelmingly chose to fill an open seat.
No matter how this shitstorm resolves, McCrory, like most members of his party, does not seem particularly afraid of setting a dangerously anti-democratic precedent in an effort to cling on to power. As it turns out, you don’t actually have to take voting rights away from everyone in order to gut a democracy (although disenfranchising minorities is certainly a start)—you just have to convince enough people that the voting process itself is ineffective and corrupt.