Leadership Asheville Forum Discusses Election Integrity in NC - TribPapers

Leadership Asheville Forum Discusses Election Integrity in NC

L-R, Nancy Waldrop, LAF President, Justice Robert Orr, Dr. Chris Cooper, and Joe McGuire, board member. Photo courtesy of Paul King.

Asheville – On Wednesday, January 26. Leadership Asheville Forum held a discussion on election integrity and fair elections in North Carolina  as the topic.  With a room full of Forum members and many distinguished guests, former NC Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Orr and Chris Cooper, Professor at Western Carolina University, spoke on many of the topics currently facing North Carolina. Many issues, such as redistricting, voter ID, and the length of time for early voting, are currently being questioned and challenged. When introducing the speakers, Joe McGuire stated, “The right to vote on equal terms is a fundamental right, and that would be agreed upon by every citizen and most politicians in the country.” The speakers then spoke, which was followed by a period of questions and answers.

Justice Robert F. Orr

Robert F. Orr grew up in Hendersonville, NC, and graduated from Hendersonville High School in 1964. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and a J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He practiced law in Asheville, and in 1986 he was appointed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals by Governor Martin. In 1994, he was elected as an Associate Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, where he remained until 2004. He then headed the newly formed North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law. He is currently retired—but as Chris Cooper said, “The one thing Bob is not good at is retirement.”

Justice Orr spoke about a program he was working on to strengthen confidence and instill greater security in the North Carolina elections: the NC Trusted Elections Tour. This is a bipartisan, nonpartisan group of individuals to form the NC Network for Fair, Safe, and Secure Elections, a grassroots project initiated by the Carter Center. To clarify, Orr has been a Republican for many years; recently, he became unaffiliated. Orr then brought up the question: What is a fair election? What is a fair system? He said, “That is often in the eye of the beholder.”

“I have lived long enough to see legislatures and courts where for many years the power was in the domain of the Democratic Party, but now that has completely flipped to the Republican Party.” Are three weeks of early voting fair versus one week? If you are unhappy, you go to court and challenge the law. There is a big difference between what is fair and what is legal or unconstitutional. We have seen this more and more in the last few years. In the last election, there was a big shift, more of a philosophical shift. You will see extraordinary deference given to acts of the General Assembly as representatives of the people. It is going to be extraordinarily difficult to be successful in challenging election laws passed by the General Assembly.

Justice Orr went on to say, “Drawing districts is really challenging under the best of circumstances.” The Moore v. Harper case, one of the first big redistricting cases, has been at the NC Supreme Court but has gone on to a higher court. I want to say, a petition concerning the earlier 4-3 Democrat decision, “has been filed that says extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the NC Constitution, has now had a petition for a new hearing filed with the new court.  “That is pending, and I expect this to be granted, and I expect them to reverse the earlier decision.”

Dr. Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper is well known in this area as a person who is a frequent source for news stories about North Carolina. He is a professor at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. He is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs and Director of the Public Policy Institute. He has received Western Carolina University’s highest awards for research (University Scholar, 2011) and teaching (Board of Governors Teaching Award, 2013) and was named the 2013 North Carolina Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Cooper started by mentioning the recent “Carolina Journal” article by Andy Jackson on the Buncombe County election machines, published by the John Locke Foundation, a think tank in Raleigh. He was arguing that the Buncombe election machine may be changed, perhaps to buy the DS200. We are in a different world. Dr. Cooper then mentioned the many ballot issues voters have seen or heard about, such as the butterfly ballot and the hanging chads. The year 2000 put a focus on election administration and who was running the elections. A lot of questions were suddenly being asked, such as about the Shelby County Decision. The Federal Voting Act required consent for changes. Cooper mentioned that the Trump election called into question a lot of issues regarding “mail-in” voting. So what is coming up next? Voter ID is going to come up again, Cooper thinks. Generally speaking, in his opinion, NC is supportive of voter ID. Then he spoke of the method of “rank choice voting” or “instant runoff voting” as a means to determine the top winner in voting—which would save a lot of money. But it is extremely complicated. The argument for this is that it is going to reduce extremism. The argument against:  it is confusing and is a huge ballot. Maine and Alaska have both used it. We did it in NC to see if it worked. Cary and Hendersonville tried it and were interested. However, the Legislature then went silent on this issue.

Some questions and Answers

The questions and answers then followed. One question concerned the possibility of establishing a third party (or a new party). Justice Orr thinks that for a 3rd party to be viable nationally will take a huge amount of money and is a tough row to hoe to get off the ground.  Obviously, the fastest-growing political affiliation in the state is “Unaffiliated.” However, a member of an “unaffiliated” party cannot serve on the Election Board or in a variety of other capacities at the local level. There is litigation with the Federal Court challenging that on a constitutional basis. Dr. Copper mentioned that as far as the Unaffiliated numbers in NC politics it is the largest group; it surpassed the Republican  party and this spring the Democratic Party. However, it should be noted that, to Dr. Cooper’s knowledge, only 17 members have ever won offices. It just doesn’t happen for a number of reasons without massive structural changes.

Then a question was brought up about the history of this, such as the history of the Whig Party. Dr. Cooper said that the constant is that we have two parties. They may change, but there are only two. He doesn’t see more any time soon. Justice Orr mentioned that the Whig party essentially was driven because of the movement towards the Civil War.   Other questions followed.
Leadership Asheville Forum welcomes the public, as well as members to all in-person meetings. RSVPs are required. To find out more about the monthly forum and/or to become a member of Leadership Asheville Forum, go to https://leadershipashevilleforum.com/membership LAF welcomes new members,  $48 for an individual and $70 for a family.