Raleigh – The nucleus of self-governance – the idea that the people, not some ruler, govern themselves – is voting. Every aspect of self-government revolves around the people casting a ballot every two years to decide who represents them. Trust in our elections has eroded, and average Americans distrust the process. Others aren’t sure what to believe, but doubt has been cast. With these raised concerns, I get many questions about where we go from here and what we can do in NC.
We still have much work to do, but the reason that North Carolina has not been in the center of the recent controversy is that I- and other Republicans have been making election integrity one of our highest priorities.
Let’s start in 2016. I supported legislation to change the panel’s composition that runs elections in our state. It had previously been controlled by whichever party held the Governor’s mansion. It’s wrong for one political party Republican or Democrat, to be in charge of administering elections. That on its own breeds distrust and suspicion.
But Governor Cooper sued over the new law to gain sole authority over elections administration. After a drawn-out court battle, he got his way, and now his political appointees run the show. Instead of operating in a nonpartisan, transparent manner, the governor’s-controlled Board of Elections added fuel to the flames of distrust. One person should not have this autocratic power, and that is happening.
In 2017 we restored partisan elections for superior and district court judges so voters could have more information about the candidates they elect. Rules were implemented to require consistent operation hours to prevent county boards from selecting to operate only those near precincts leaning towards their political affiliation.
In 2018 I helped bring you a constitutional amendment for voter ID, and a majority of North Carolinians elected to support it. Unfortunately, two full years after the Constitutional amendment passed, it remains under attack in the courts because Democratic advocacy groups, with Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Stein’s support, have sued to block the people’s Constitutional amendment from being enacted.
Do you think blocking a Constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, which dozens of other states already have, increases or decreases the average person’s confidence in voting procedures? The legislature continues to support voter ID in these crucial ongoing court battles. In December, a favorable ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals provided us a hopeful beacon for success in other courts.
Also, in 2018 I supported legislation that finalized the abolishment of electronic-only voting and required back- up paper ballots for audit purposes. This act eliminates doubts, as we’ve seen with systems like Dominion voting machines.
The Bipartisan Elections Act of 2019 enacted unprecedented fraud prevention measures for absentee voting. Applications for ballots are now required, witness signatures are mandatory, anonymous drop boxes are prohibited, and ID for in-person deliveries are required. The bill also strengthened penalties for election fraud.
In 2020 the legislature outlawed carte blanche mail-in voting as we’ve seen in other states. At the same time, we removed autocratic authority from the state Board of Elections to change rules during a state of emergency.
With all our progress, we still need a sober reflection on what’s brought us now to this dangerous moment, and we need to acknowledge that many actions have created a trust deficit.
For example, in late September of 2020, after voting had already begun, the Governor’s Board, together with Attorney General Josh Stein, secretly negotiated with Democratic Party super-lawyer Marc Elias to “settle” a lawsuit to rewrite the rules of the election that was already underway. They brazenly violated multiple state voting laws in the process and were rebuked by numerous federal judges.
Suppose the political and media class continue to ignore the very real issues undermining election confidence in North Carolina and continue to demean those who hold reasonable perspectives. In that case, we’ll continue to careen down a dangerous path.
We must ensure our elections remain free from outside influence. I have and will continue to defend our elections from partisan sway. This year, you will see another election integrity bill that will address our ongoing concerns.
Editor’s note: Edwards is a state senator representing south Buncombe and Henderson County.