Democratic operative Elias blames GOP extremism for election lawsuits

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  • Democratic operative Marc Elias blames Republican extremism for a group of election-related lawsuits moving through state and federal courts in North Carolina.
  • Elias cited the "gerrymandered" Republican-led legislature as the source of "voter suppression" laws targeted in lawsuits by groups aligned with the Democratic Party.
  • The "fight for democracy remains raging in court," Elias claimed during a 17-minute interview posted to YouTube.

Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias blames Republican extremism as the cause of multiple election lawsuits moving through state and federal courts in North Carolina. Elias’ law firm represents plaintiffs in two of the cases he describes.

“It means that the fight for democracy remains raging in court,” Elias said during a 17-minute video interview posted Monday on the Democracy Docket YouTube channel. “People thought that after the experience of 2020, we might see Republicans step back from the brink of election denialism and all that it entails. Instead they’ve doubled down on it.”

“These cases are a cautionary tale of what happens when you have an extreme Republican gerrymander that puts in place a Republican legislature — a supermajority that then decides to enact new voter suppression laws,” he added later in the video.

“This is a battleground state not just for the presidential elections,” Elias said. “There is a key governor’s race in that state. People don’t realize that North Carolina is really a 51-49 state. It has had a Democratic governor. It has a Republican-gerrymandered legislature. It has traditionally voted for president for Republicans, but by only the narrowest of margins.”

“That state is changing demographically to become bluer and bluer,” he added. “Because the General Assembly is so overwhelmingly Republican due to gerrymandering, you see a state that passes rigged maps in the redistricting arena and, of course, passes voter suppression laws.”

Elias also described the state’s court system as evolving “from one that was very balanced to now one that leans right.” That’s one reason more lawsuits are now pursued in federal court, he said.

“These cases are going to make the difference between who can vote and who can’t and whether or not we will … continue to have a functioning democracy in November and afterward,” Elias added while urging viewers to subscribe to the Democracy Docket’s premium services.

Elias and interviewer Paige Moskowitz focused on nine active cases involving North Carolina. “Eight are trying to make it easier to vote, but there’s one that’s trying to make it harder to vote,” Moskowitz said.

In that case, Green v. Bell, Republican voting activists seek to ensure the State Board of Elections follows National Voter Registration Act requirements for maintaining accurate lists of eligible voters. The suit is scheduled for trial in January 2025.

Elias described the case as a “voter purge” lawsuit. “They want fewer people to be able to vote because … Republicans’ plan for November is to make it harder to vote and easier to cheat,” he said.

Moskowitz described the other eight suits as “pro-voting.” She mentioned two suits challenging the state’s voter identification law. One, in state court, challenges the voter ID constitutional amendment approved by 55% of voters in 2018. (That case prompted the John Locke Foundation to launch the Extreme Injustice podcast.) The second case, in federal court, challenges the law state lawmakers approved in December 2018, weeks after voters endorsed the photo ID requirement.

The challenged ID law is similar to the law the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down in 2016, in Elias’ view. “I think it is fair to say. Paige, that if they were targeting black voters with near surgical precision 10 years ago, they have not gotten any less surgical or precise in the meantime.”

Neither Elias nor Moskowitz mentioned Holmes v. Moore, a separate state court case challenging the voter ID law. The state Supreme Court issued a 5-2 ruling in April 2023 upholding voter ID as constitutional. That decision paved the way for voter ID’s use in 2023 municipal elections and this year’s primary contests.

Moskowitz cited as her fourth case the recent federal ruling striking down North Carolina’s crime against voting by felons. State legislative leaders have appealed that ruling to the 4th Circuit.

The fifth case involves a challenge to North Carolina’s 30-day residency requirement for voters. Elias’ law firm represents the plaintiffs in that suit, the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans.

“Let’s say it’s 29 days before the election,” Elias said. “You’re no longer eligible to vote in your prior state because you have moved. You have redomiciled yourself. But under North Carolina’s law, it says you can’t register there. … You can’t vote there, even though the registration deadline hasn’t passed. So essentially you can’t vote anywhere.”

The federal Voting Rights Act says “that can’t be the circumstance with respect to people voting in presidential elections,” Elias argued.

Three separate federal lawsuits challenge provisions in the 2023 election reform law known as Senate Bill 747. Elias’s law firm represents one set of plaintiffs.

Action in the lawsuits has focused on the “undeliverable mail provision.” It calls for elections officials to remove a same-day voter’s ballot if an address verification card mailed to the voter comes back to the local elections office as undeliverable.

“Your ballot doesn’t count,” Elias said. “They don’t tell you. They don’t notify you.”

The US Postal Service process is “riddled with errors,” Elias added. “The USPS never put this in place as a way for states to use it to disenfranchise voters.”

A federal judge blocked the provision as the cases proceed through court. “That’s the good news, but it just goes to show you … how extreme Republicans will go to disenfranchise voters.”

“Speaking of Republican extremism,” Moskowitz said, the final case on her list targeted a “power grab law.” In Cooper v. Berger, the Democratic governor challenged Republican lawmakers’ plans in Senate Bill 749 to change the structure and appointment process for state and local boards of elections.

Boards now tilted toward the governor’s party would instead have an even number of Democrats and Republicans under SB 749. Appointments to those boards would move from the governor to legislative leaders from both major parties.

“This is nothing more than a Republican power grab — plain and simple,” Elias said. “In fact, the Republicans don’t even really hide the fact very much because, as I said, of the extreme gerrymandered nature of that legislature.”

Elias tied SB 749 to Republicans’ earlier efforts to strip power from Gov. Roy Cooper. “Guess what? … They’re back, and they’re back with a vengeance. This time, they’re targeting democracy.”

A three-judge panel struck down the elections board changes. State legislative leaders are appealing that decision.