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The Ugly: Legislative Tyranny (Part 3 of 4)

[North Carolina’s veto-proof Republican State Senate recently fast tracked a bill called “No Partisan Advantage in Elections (SB 749)” and sent it over to the veto-proof Republican House. On it’s surface, the bill sounds like an idea everybody could support. . . which is why we’re peeking under the hood to see what’s inside it. This is Part 3 in a 4-part series. Today’s post deals with some of the uglier aspects of the bill that the House should address in hopes of restoring public trust in our electoral process. You may view Part 1 by clicking here and Part 2 by clicking here. The final installment will offer some possible options for such a big opportunity this bill presents.]

At least three big uglies.

First, there’s portion of the bill covering criminal background checks that says “one or more convictions . . . shall constitute just cause for not selecting the person for employment or for dismissing the person from current employment.” This seems fair enough until it adds, that the criminal background “received in accordance with GS 143B-969 is not a public record.”

In memory of Elwood, the “World’s Ugliest Dog.”

I’ve gotta throw a flag on this one. It seems that criminal records are created when someone gets convicted in court. Unless we’re in a communist country or something, criminal and civil convictions already are public. The main difference when the government conducts the check involves its thoroughness.

If the agency knowingly hires an employee with a relevant criminal past, then there needs to be at least a possibility that adults will find out. Slapping “confidential” status to such public information makes any future detection that much harder.

Then, let’s take said employee to the next level. Eventually, somebody will find out about him/her. My concern is that a person in power–a Judge, a County Commissioner, or Sheriff–with this newfound knowledge, could blackmail the employee.

“You know you could lose your job if this ever got out,” the corrupt official might say, “but don’t worry. I’ll protect you… as long as you do everything I say.”

The employee might have only had a minor criminal conviction for, say, drunk and disorderly while a freshman in college. Something like that wouldn’t be a big deal in the eyes of the public and nobody would object to his being hired anyway.

But under the current language, “one or more convictions” means the employee should have never been hired. Keeping such records confidential means that only people in his supervisory chain will know about the problem. As a result, a silly little D&D conviction can be used to coerce that poor employee into performing the very actions this law would supposedly prevent.

Just as in the spy world, the betrayal always starts with something simple.

Let’s consider a mythological corrupt County Commissioner, who has managed to irritate a lot of moms in his home district. He suspects that a certain one of the uppity moms it planning to primary challenge him over her issue, so he calls his mole at the County Board of Elections (CBE) and asks a “small favor” and switch his rival’s party affiliation.

With any luck, the rival won’t realize her party affiliation had been changed until it was too late. The law doesn’t allow candidates to change party affiliation that late in the game.

“We don’t know how it happened, but we can’t change it now,” they would tell her. “Besides, you can always run next time.”

Eventually, such incremental “favors” lead to something truly nefarious… like forcing the employee to plug a special thumb drive into the CBE’s tabulator.

Bottom Line: Secrecy kills. Transparency is the only road back to restoring public trust.

Our second big objection, and this is SUPER ugly, involves the process for appointing members to the County and State Boards of Elections. The new law completely strips all power away from the County and State Party organizations and gives that power to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore.

This is far beyond personal and I’ll unpack all that, but right now, that power will go to Rep. Tim Moore–who will have held the Speakership for ten years at the end of his term–and Sen. Phil Berger, who has held onto power even longer than Moore.

Under current law, the respective party Chairs are gatekeepers in who can be nominated to become election board members.  The two largest party’s Chairs each submit a list of nominees to the Governor, who “shall” select the member from that list.

The proposed law shifts that final selection authority to the Legislative branch of government, but it adds a level of treachery that I’ve not seen in more than 12 years of watching this narrow lane of public policy. In the past, we’ve caught them sneaking less-blatant poison pills into their laws and they would pretend it was an accidental inclusion that slipped past them. Naturally, they’d  promise to fix it in the future. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. It depended on how much pressure we could mount.

In this case, I’m guessing that you weren’t  supposed to notice it until after it was codified.

Instead of the “shall-select” phrase, they revised GS 163-19(b1) to say, “the General Assembly shall give due consideration to the nominations provided by the party chairs.” In case anybody wanted to quibble over their power grab, they added this hammer: “However, the General Assembly is not required to appoint members from the submitted lists.”

Translation: The full power to appoint every member of the County and State Boards of election will belong to just two sorry-ass politicians, who, in 2022, received a combined total of 78,050 votes out of NC’s 3,773,924 votes cast.

Put another way, just 2.1% of NC’s voters will have any say in who controls our elections. The Sponsors of this bill were Senators Warren Daniel, Paul Newton, and Ralph Hise, but they only deserve a light flogging.

All kidding aside, early on, I petulantly blamed Sen Daniel for something and it turned out to be Sen. Berger’s fault, so please hold off on flogging these three fine Senators.

Just make them apologize.

The rule in the Senate is that noting gets done unless Senator Phil Berger lets it happen.

So, he should get the full blame for this breathtaking power grab, along with his election law “expert,” Brent Woodcox. I’ve never exposed staffers in this way, but Brent’s vitriolic Twitter channel has never pulled punches with yours truly. He once was so ugly that somebody invoked the “I was hacked” excuse on his behalf!

Say goodby, Brent. You’re walking the plank on this one.

The hero in this tragic comedy can be Speaker Moore. If you ask real nice, maybe he will give control of elections back to the voters.

Let that sink in.

“The General Assembly shall give due consideration to the nominations provided by the party chairs. However, the General Assembly is not required to appoint members from the submitted lists.” SB 749, See 163-19(b1)

The more I’ve pondered this last one, the madder I’ve gotten.

So, let’s punt my promised third objection big objection into my final post on this series. Look for it sometime after the weekend.