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While the attacks on election integrity are aimed at “every level of the electoral process,” the report isolated 3 primary threats in North Carolina: the harassment of local elections officials; lawsuits that could undermine election; and voter suppression efforts.

Many state Republican legislators who are actively seeking to disrupt free and fair elections in North Carolina pose a direct threat to democracy, a new report says.

The new report, conducted by Defend Democracy Project, an advocacy group founded by former officials in the Obama administration, was based on surveys with grassroots organizers, legal analysts, and academic experts, its researchers said. 

While the attacks are aimed at “every level of the electoral process,” the surveys isolated three primary threats in North Carolina: the intensifying harassment of local elections officials; lawsuits that could undermine the electoral certification process; and voter suppression efforts.

But these threats are not in isolation. They are entwined, deliberate and organized, the report says, and Republican legislators are either pushing these efforts or are by their inaction allowing them to flourish.

“[Donald] Trump and MAGA Republicans in North Carolina are actively working to disrupt election administration, obstruct certification, and suppress votes in order to consolidate power over elections for decades to come,” the report said. 

Defend Democracy Project was founded by Leslie Dach, a longtime Democratic advisor and an official in the US Department of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama, and Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic strategist. It is a “rapid response and communications group that formed over the last six months or so to really highlight the threats to Democracy across the country as well as the investigation and the work that the Jan. 6 Committee is doing,” Becky Parks, a Defend Democracy Project researcher, said in a phone interview on Thursday. 

But the group’s aim is not about politics, it says. It’s about protecting the foundational ideals of the US voting system from unprecedented and growing threats. 

And this report’s got the receipts. 

Here is a look at what the report says are the “three greatest threats to democracy in North Carolina.”

‘Legislators Have Refused to Protect Poll Workers’

Local election officials nationwide are facing increasing harassment and threats of violence over the lies that the 2020 election was stolen. And while Republican legislators themselves have rarely threatened violence, many continue to spout the lies. 

“I was surprised at some of the intensity of the threats to poll workers even in a state where Trump won in 2020,” Parks said.

And not all harassment is violent. North Carolina election officials also face an organized siege of frivolous and ludicrous public records requests that distract election workers from their duties and strain limited resources, the report shows.

While North Carolina legislators have the power to safeguard the process and protect poll workers, the report says, they have repeatedly chosen not to. 

Without action from NC lawmakers, the report said, “Local election offices are taking matters into their own hands.”

The NC State Board of Elections created a website to fight the incessant disinformation aimed at it, and Karen Brinson Bell, the NCBOE executive director, told CNN that local election officials have installed panic buttons and bulletproof glass in their offices in response to the intimidation.

The lack of action from the NC General Assembly, the report said, is not because of a lack of opportunity. 

“In June 2022, a group of state legislators introduced SB 916, which would have protected election officials from threats, harassment, and intimidation, while banning third-party post-election audits,” the report says.

Republican leaders have not taken up the bill.

Lawsuits Could Dismantle North Carolina’s Elections Process

While the threats against poll workers are taking place across the country, Parks said, North Carolina stands out for its dangerous election lawsuits.

Republican legislators have filed several suits that are now before the US Supreme Court and could give them unchecked power over who votes and how. 

The lawsuits are based on extreme partisan legal theories, including one that legal experts say has no basis in reality, much less legal precedent. 

Together, the report says, these cases could “allow state legislatures to overturn valid and legal election results.”

There is, for example, a gerrymandering case that, if it goes Republicans’ way, would allow them to draw election maps that all but ensure their candidates win and erase the growing power of voters of color. 

And then there’s the big one, Moore v. Harper, where Republicans argue that they have sole discretion to operate elections however they see fit.

If they win the case, it would mean that the NC Supreme Court would be unable to block voting measures that clearly violate the state constitution. This “radical legal theory,” the report and most independent analyses say, would “render state legislatures unaccountable to judicial oversight and, ultimately, the popular vote.” 

This case could also allow Republican controlled legislatures to “unilaterally reject legitimate election results,” and name their own candidate the winner even in a clear loss. This, of course, is just what Donald Trump had urged them to do in 2020.

‘Voter Suppression Efforts Targeting Ballot Access’

Mail in voting was widely popular in 2020 and was utilized as much by Republican voters as by Democrats. But these pandemic-friendly measures drew the wrath of Republicans across the country who, with zero evidence, said that voting by mail was an invitation to fraud. 

NC Republicans have sought to make mail-in-voting much harder and to seize voting machines without cause, the report said.

Again, the NCBOE isn’t messing around, and has some of the most thorough election safety measures in the country. Fraud is not an issue, so the only people who would be blocked from voting by mail under the Republicans’ proposed restrictions are legitimate voters. 

“At the federal level, ten of North Carolina’s fifteen members of Congress voted against legislation to protect voting rights,” the report says, and “three Trump-aligned lawmakers from North Carolina have also actively worked to roll back voting rights at the federal level.”

Examples: 

  • Rep. David Rouzer (NC-7) has cosponsored legislation to ban automatic mail-in ballots and automatic voter registration, requiring Social Security Numbers to register to vote. 
  • Rep. Gregory Murphy (NC-3) claims that opposition to voter ID restrictions intended to “legitimize voter fraud.” 
  • Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC-5) has continued to allege ‘fraud’ conspiracies about widespread “irregularities and allegations of voter fraud” that do not exist. 

Republican leaders in North Carolina are also moving forward with voter restrictions, like a Voter ID law, that federal courts have already ruled were “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American[s].”

The combined effort to muddy, or outright poison, the election waters could have devastating effects for the future of a healthy democracy in North Carolina and, of course, the nation, Parks said. 

But North Carolina is unique in its rapidly changing demographics. The state is seeing huge population growth in its cities, and that means a huge influx in potential voters. Like with many states in the South, North Carolina’s cities tend to vote more Democratic and the rural areas more conservative. 

Unaffiliated voters are the biggest voting group in the state and Democrats already outnumber Republicans. This context, perhaps, helps explain Republican efforts to maximize partisan advantage. 

“These threats,” the report says, “are designed to overturn the will of American voters, and take away our most basic right to choose their own leaders.”