NC democracy = Cuba democracy?

A UNC Political Science professor who studies democracy, Andrew Reynolds, has written (an already viral in my world Op-Ed) arguing that on key metrics North Carolina is hardly a democracy:

When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.

First, legislative power does not depend on the votes of the people. One party wins just half the votes but 100 percent of the power. The GOP has a huge legislative majority giving it absolute veto-proof control with that tiny advantage in the popular vote. The other party wins just a handful of votes less and 0 percent of the legislative power. This is above and beyond the way in which state legislators are detached from democratic accountability as a result of the rigged district boundaries. They are beholden to their party bosses, not the voters. Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.

Second, democracies do not limit their citizens’ rights on the basis of their born identities. However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens.

Third, government in North Carolina has become arbitrary and detached from popular will. When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy. When a wounded legislative leadership,  and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon…

Respect for democracy is not a partisan issue. In America true Republicans are as loyal to democratic principles as are Democrats.

1) Whoa– in that case, there are perilously few “true Republicans” as the response to Trump has made eminently clear.

2) Lots of good points here, but honestly, any metric that places North Carolina’s democracy ranked alongside Cuba and Indonesia is a seriously flawed metric.  We did just manage to elect a governor from the out-party while having all sorts of election administration questions settled in a fair manner.  Yeah, I’m not big fan of the guys running the legislature, but we are far from being an authoritarian state or pseudo democracy.  That said, Reynolds is right that we can and should do a hell of a lot better.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to NC democracy = Cuba democracy?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    He’s right about Republican power in the legislature. Democrats won’t regain the ability to legislate without a tsunami size wave election.

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