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Tar Heel Democrats are voting to expand voter rights, while Republicans push voter IDs to hold on to power. We speak to NC state representative Graig Meyer

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MARC STEINER: Welcome the Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner, great to have you all with us.

And we’re going to continue our looks here as to what’s happening in state elections since this last election. And when it comes to the election results in places like North Carolina, and while most of the nation’s attention has been focused on the state’s ninth congressional district, where Republican Mark Harris is being accused, or at least his Republican colleagues were being accused of election fraud in his victory over Marine veteran and Democratic candidate Dan McCready for Congress.

There’s a lot going on beyond that, and as some say, there might be a little stench reeling up from other parts of the state after this election. Republicans in the state legislature are pushing through a bill they call the North Carolina Vote Act that would require voters to have certain I.D. to be presented if they’re going to be allowed to vote. Democrats have their own bill in response to this move for voter suppression that would create an automatic online voting registration process. And Republicans right now are determined to suppress the vote, it seems, and some Democrats, like our guest today, North Carolina State Representative from the 50th district there, Greg Meyer, are doing their best to fight for the rights of citizens to vote without fear of intimidation. And Representative Greg Meyer, welcome. Good to have you with us.

GREG MEYER: Thank you, Marc. Good to be here.

MARC STEINER: So let me just start very quickly with what’s happening in the 9th congressional district. I know that’s not the focus of your bill, but that, to me, is emblematic of a battle going on. Talk a bit about what is actually happening there and how it affects maybe how you’re thinking.

GREG MEYER: So we have a pretty clear case of absentee voter fraud. There’s an active investigation happening, trying to figure out how much fraud has happened there. And it seems like they’re increasing calls for a new election in that district. It appears that a company that was associated with the Republican congressional candidates campaign was illegally harvesting absentee ballots, possibly ones that were open, and either discarding ballots that they didn’t like or having some type of other strategy that they used to tell people that they were going to have an absentee ballot and then sending the ballots to the wrong address, or something else that might have suppressed the vote.

MARC STEINER: So let me play this very quick clip here, very quickly, of the executive director of the North Carolina Republicans, and what he had to say about this.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: The North County Republican Party never has had a part in these operations, didn’t fund them, didn’t coordinate them, didn’t operate them, didn’t know about them, would never have condoned them. Clearly, if what you reported is verified by the State Board of Elections, there has to be a new election. And if the allegations as presented by the Board of Elections rise to the level of turning the outcome in this race or having substantial likelihood, there has to be a new election.

MARC STEINER: So it looks like there may be a new election, who knows, and it could be a very tight election.

GREG MEYER: I mean, that’s a real change in tune from where the Republicans were over the weekend, when they were calling for quick certification of the vote and said it couldn’t make a difference. But by state law, the number of votes that were tampered with don’t have to be large enough to make a difference in order to have a new election. The fact that votes were tampered with at all is enough to call for a new election. And I expect that after the state board has its evidentiary hearing, if what everything that’s been reported is true, then I expect we will have a new election.

MARC STEINER: Well, we’ll follow that when that happens. But let’s go back to the state legislature and what’s happening there. I mean, the Republicans seem to have a pretty solid hold on the state legislature in North Carolina, but they’re putting through a bill, I understand, that would make it even more difficult for people to vote. Describe what’s going on. What’s that politics about?

GREG MEYER: So we’ve had a Republican supermajority for the last six years, but we just broke that supermajority in both chambers in the November elections. So the Republicans have called us back for a lame duck session to be able to jam some conservative legislation through before they lose their supermajorities and have to be subject to our Democratic governor, Roy Cooper’s, veto power. Also, on the November ballot was a Republican created constitutional amendment to require voter ID in North Carolina. We had had a voter ID law that had been struck down by the Supreme Court. And so, they came and did an end run around that by putting it on the ballot for a constitutional amendment.

That passed, and so now we are implementing that the language that will create what is the voter ID system, and the Republicans with their supermajority power are trying to create a voter ID system that does the least amount possible to meet existing legal thresholds so that their law doesn’t get thrown out again, but they’re not exactly making a very expansive rule. And of course, the whole point of having Voter ID is to suppress the vote.

MARC STEINER: I’m going to come back to kind of the politics of this. But then you sponsored another bill, you and other Democrats, but you were one of the leads on this, sponsored a bill that would change the nature of voter registration to make it more accessible.

GREG MEYER: We wanted to provide a contrast to voters, so we introduced the Let North Carolina Vote Act, and said, look, if Democrats were in charge, we would be expanding voter access, not restricting it. We would make automatic voter registration for anyone that comes into any type of interaction with the state and is eligible to vote. So whether that’s registering for college or signing up for any type of public assistance, you’d automatically be registered to vote at the same time. You get your driver’s license, you’re automatically registered to vote. And make it possible for people to register online, and so just drop that barrier for registration, and then we also said that we would push for same day election day registration and for the board of elections to be required to give you a free ID if you’re eligible to vote and you don’t have one.

That means that someone could go to the polls on election day and say, hey, look here’s what I have to certify that I actually live here, that I’m a citizen, I’m a resident of North Carolina, please let me vote. But if they didn’t have an ID, the polling place would have to have an ID printer to print them an ID so that they would be eligible to vote. We thought that would be the best way to reduce the barrier of photo ID and make sure that all North Carolinians could vote if they wanted to.

MARC STEINER: So given the fact that Republicans have what you said is a supermajority right now in the state legislature, before the next session, which I’m going to come to next, and they pushed this bill through, what happens?

GREG MEYER: So I expect it will fail. The Republicans got the bill through the legislature today, will go to Governor Cooper’s desk, I think that he’ll veto it. I hope that he’ll veto it. And then, the Republicans will probably override the veto. But because this is implementing language of the constitutional amendment, if Democrats, if we ever got back control of the legislature, we could go back in and change the implementing language. So we could weaken the impact of this voter ID constitutional amendment and try and do some good things to expand voting, but we’re going to have to get legislative majorities before we can do that.

MARC STEINER: So how does this all pertain to the political battle, issues around race as well, in the political battle for the future of North Carolina? I mean, it seems like you picked up so many seats in the state legislature that people were kind of amazed by, some people were. So what does this portend?

GREG MEYER: So North Carolina is probably the most closely divided state in the nation politically. We really are 50/50, right down the middle. Almost all of our statewide races are very, very close. And in this year’s elections, Democrats and Republicans, on the legislative races, got about 50 percent of the vote, each party. But the Republicans are still going to have, in the state House, 65 seats, we’ll have 55, because of gerrymandering. And one of the most powerful impacts of gerrymandering is that they’ve backed a lot of Black voters into certain districts. Districts were found to be Illegal racial gerrymanders, but the new districts are still partisan gerrymanders.

But in North Carolina, just like any state in the South and really with the Democratic base as a whole, Republicans are trying to limit Democrats’ chances by suppressing the people who are most likely to turn out for voters. And we know that voter ID is most likely to impact African-American voters, other people of color and young voters. And those, of course, are all core parts of the Democratic base.

MARC STEINER: So I’m curious. This is your third term coming up, is that right?

GREG MEYER: I’m just finishing my third term.

MARC STEINER: Just finishing your third term. So I’m curious what your perspective is on where the future might go, because you’re in a state, and North Carolina’s not alone in this, where voter suppression is becoming the act of the moment, maybe, politically in this country, to ensure that communities of color, especially, and poor working people, period, don’t get a chance to vote because of the voter ID laws and more. You’re in a state that’s in the South, battling for its future. So talk about how this is going to play out, because this is a very intense battle.

GREG MEYER: It is an intense battle. I would liken it to Citizens United, that we’ve all kind of recognized at this point that with Citizens United on the book we’re going to have to play in the game that’s in front of us right now. We don’t like the role that money is playing in politics, but if we want to fix that, you’ve got to play with the rules that are in front of us, win, and then be able to fix the rules later. And so, the same thing is going to be true with voting access. We’re going to have to do the best we can with the voter ID requirement on the books in 2020, but if we can win majorities and turn our people out to vote, then we’ll be able to come back and try and fix some of that, expand voting access and also address money in politics.

MARC STEINER: Well, I’m really looking forward to exploring this more and seeing what happens when this vote takes place and what you all do when you actually get into the legislative session. We’re here talking with North Carolina State Representative Greg Meyer on his way back to North Carolina, he joins us from an airport. And Greg, great to have you with us. I really appreciate it. Good to have you with us and thanks so much for taking your time.

GREG MEYER: Thank you, Marc. Appreciate it, have a good night.

MARC STEINER: You too. And I’m Marc Steiner, here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us. Take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.