Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
What a pathetic moment.
Republicans have spent years warning us that voter fraud is rampant. Despite no evidence that this is the case – election fraud in the United States is in fact rare – the GOP has put legislation into place in states across the country to make it harder to vote, arguing that it’s necessary to protect the sanctity of elections.
They take voter fraud seriously, they say. It’s become one of their core issues.
So we would expect that, faced with a rare case of potentially serious and pervasive electoral fraud, they would jump on it – insist on an investigation, figure out exactly what happened, punish wrongdoers and close whatever holes in the system led to the abuses.
There are indeed serious allegations of election fraud tied to North Carolina’s midterm elections right now in a congressional district where results appear abnormal. But instead of insisting on investigating, Republicans are waving it away and insisting there’s nothing to see.
Why the sudden about-face on this allegedly serious crime? Because the Republican candidate, Mark Harris won – by 905 votes – and may have benefited from the alleged fraud. And of course the GOP position was never about protecting our democracy at all. It was about suppressing votes for Democrats and giving themselves an unfair advantage.
Citing “numerous irregularities,” including a number of voters complaining of abnormal activity in the lead-up to the election, the state’s Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has refused to certify the 9th Congressional District’s election results, even though Harris has already claimed victory.
Many voters were allegedly told by door-to-door canvassers that their registrations had been dropped and they should request an absentee ballot. Other voters said a woman collected their ballots improperly, unsealed, and carried them away – in at least one case allegedly offering to finish filling a ballot in for a voter – against vote-tampering laws. In two counties, Harris won a strangely large margin of absentee ballot votes. Only 19% of absentee ballots were submitted by registered Republicans in Bladen County, one of the counties at issue, but the Republican candidate won 61% of the absentee ballot votes.
This is, obviously, extremely improbable. Bladen was the only county where a Republican won a majority of mail-in absentee voters. The Republican response? This didn’t happen, and even if it did, it doesn’t matter. The North Carolina Republican Party has threatened to sue if the results, giving Harris victory, are not certified.
North Carolina’s case has laid bare a fundamental and shameful problem.
There is much Republicans and Democrats can disagree on in good faith, but the foundation of our democracy shouldn’t be one of those things. In a representative democracy, the vote is in fact sacred; it is what makes our electoral system work. When we have information that points to a possible perversion of this system, we should follow it.
But that is not what Republican efforts to supposedly protect against voter fraud have ever been about. They have unerringly targeted communities of color (in which citizens tend to vote for Democrats) and tried to make it harder for them to vote. Racism’s long history in the United States is exactly what the Voting Rights Act – recently gutted by the Supreme Court under the fiction that racism in America is behind us – was intended to protect against.
In fact, North Carolina was home to one of the ugliest of those voter suppression laws, a 2013 bill so transparently discriminatory that a judge on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was written to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” – before striking it down in 2016.
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North Carolina, then, tells us a lot about just how representational and democratic these Republicans really want our system to be. The sad reality is that they want to stoke fears of voter fraud to make it harder for black people to vote while happily ignoring credible accusations of electoral fraud when the alleged fraud works to their benefit.
They’re showing us who they are: not patriots, but craven opportunists, ready to undermine democracy itself to maintain their grip on power.