Voting Issues and Gerrymanders Are Now Key Political Battlegrounds – The New York Times

Voting Issues and Gerrymanders Are Now Key Political Battlegrounds – The New York Times

“It’s the result of digitally diabolical gerrymandering,” said Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

North Carolina has been ground zero for what critics call aggressive Republican attacks on democracy, including a strict voter ID law, extreme partisan gerrymandering and a power grab during a lame-duck session of the legislature after Mr. Cooper’s election in 2016. Courts have overturned many of these efforts.

The governor echoed critics of gerrymandering who say that putting lawmakers in safe districts leads to partisan polarization, because incumbents fear only a primary challenge from the extremes and lack any incentive to reach across the aisle.

“It has prevented progress in North Carolina on closing the health care gap,” Mr. Cooper said. “I think in Washington it has torpedoed common sense immigration reform.” In June, the United States Supreme Court sidestepped the question of whether partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional.

Republican supermajorities in both of the state’s legislative chambers have overridden 22 of Mr. Cooper’s vetoes. In November, Democrats flipped enough seats in the General Assembly to limit Republicans to simple majorities, restoring the governor’s veto authority. Rather than wait for the new legislature to convene in January, Republicans met this month to override two of Mr. Cooper’s vetoes of voting laws.

Phil Berger, the president of the State Senate, said critics accusing North Carolina Republicans of undermining democracy ignore the fact that the party won its majorities in 2010 using maps drawn by Democrats. The laws enacted since then, including voter ID, reflect the will of the majority, he said.

“The Democrats have a geographic problem,” Mr. Berger said, referring to the clustering of Democratic voters in a handful of cities. “Our view is we were returning North Carolina to more of the mainstream.”

At the same time, many states have expanded voting access in recent years. Midterm voters in Nevada passed automatic registration for those receiving a driver’s license, and Maryland authorized same-day registration at the polls. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is calling for an overhaul of the state’s voting laws, considered among the most archaic in the country.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, advocates of restrictions such as voter ID laws say they are needed to prevent fraud, despite multiple studies showing in-person fraud is extremely rare. A federal appeals court that struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law in 2016 said it was drafted to target blacks “with almost surgical precision.”

One of the Republicans defeated at the polls last year, Kris W. Kobach, lost a race for Kansas governor after being rebuked in federal court for insisting without evidence that noncitizen voting was widespread. Mr. Kobach had led the commission to look into President Trump’s baseless claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2016. It disbanded without documenting his claim.

Polls show Americans are increasingly concerned about the structure of elections. Only 51 percent believed that elections are fair and open in a July Ipsos poll. A Pew Research Center survey in October found wide partisan gaps over easing access to voting, with more Democrats than Republicans favoring the ability to register on Election Day, the restoration of felons’ voting rights and the automatic registration of all eligible voters.

The issue has become a galvanizing one for Democratic candidates.

Kamala Harris, the senator from California and a likely Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted last week: “As states across the country are actively making it harder for Americans to vote, my Democratic colleagues are committed to strengthening access to the ballot box. Reinvigorating the Voting Rights Act, expanding early voting, and automatic registration are a place to start.”

In November, voters in Colorado, Missouri, Michigan and Utah approved changes to limit the role of partisanship in drawing congressional and legislative districts. Ohio passed a similar measure in May.

But in Missouri, Gov. Michael L. Parson, a Republican, opposed the popular vote to turn over mapmaking to a “nonpartisan state demographer,” which could increase Democratic representation. The governor called for the measure’s repeal.

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