This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Lynn Bonner
Republican lawmakers drew new election districts. Lawsuits followed.
Facing more restrictions, voters will have a harder time casting ballots that don’t end up getting thrown away.
Republicans imposed new limits on abortion with the help of a party-switching legislator.
And after a decade of saying ‘no,’ Republicans agreed to expand Medicaid to allow more low-income adults to obtain health insurance.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly passed laws this year that will reverberate for years.
Republicans used their political power to enact new election districts in the state House, the state Senate, and the U.S. House.
Congressional district lines used in the last election were drawn under court-order by special masters. Using those lines, the North Carolinians elected seven Democrats and seven Republicans to Congress last year.
Next year, Democrats will win four congressional seats at most.
In April, a new Republican majority on the state Supreme Court reversed a 2022 decision written by a Democratic court majority which held that extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution.
Freed of worry that courts would intervene to curb redistricting over partisan gerrymandering complaints, Republicans drew districts that give Republican candidates 10 or 11 of the state’s 14 congressional seats.
The districts Republicans drew for themselves will help the GOP maintain majorities in the legislature even in years when voters statewide prefer Democrats, Duke mathematicians determined.
Redistricting plans can still be challenged in court on claims they violate the rights of minority voters.
Republican legislators face three lawsuits claiming districts are racial gerrymanders.
One lawsuit challenges Senate districts in northeastern counties, an area known as the Black Belt, as diluting Black voting power. A second lawsuit filed by Black and Latino voters challenges congressional districts as racial gerrymanders. The latest federal lawsuit challenges all three redistricting plans.
North Carolina Republicans have not formally replied to the lawsuit, but GOP legislative leaders said repeatedly during redistricting debates that their plans are legal.
None of these lawsuits will likely be resolved before the 2024 election.
As a result of redistricting, many North Carolina voters will find new names in the U.S. House and state House and Senate sections of their ballots next year.
They’ll be adjusting to new rules for voting too.
The three-day grace period for returning absentee ballots will be gone. Partisan poll observers will have more leeway to move around polling places and will be allowed to listen to conversations between voters and poll workers. The pool of people who can challenge ballots will be wider.
Three lawsuits are challenging various sections of the wide-ranging law, which Republicans enacted over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
Voters this year encountered their first experiences with a requirement they show a photo ID to cast their ballot since the spring of 2016. Most people had no problems showing a license.
But voting rights groups who were monitoring vote counting found a lack of uniformity among local elections boards in their decisions about votes cast by people without acceptable ID.
It’s hard for people with busy lives not focused on voting laws to keep up with all the changes, Cheryl Carter, co-executive director of Democracy NC said in an interview this month.
“It’s disheartening that so much time is spent keeping people from voting,” she said.
People who do know about new rules should make sure other people in their lives know what’s now required, she said, and voters should look to trusted sources, such as the Board of Elections, for information.
“For organizations like mine, instead of trying to work on affirmative agenda items, we’re having to fight old fights over and over again,” Carter said. “It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. We’re prepared to dig in and push back just as we’ve always done.”
A ban on most abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation became effective starting July 1 over Cooper’s veto and despite efforts of state doctors’ groups and reproductive rights advocates to stop it.
Republicans wrote the law without input from Democrats. The Washington Post detailed the extraordinary tactics employed to keep the bill language under wraps before it was introduced.
Cooper campaigned to get at least one Republican in the House or Senate to sustain his veto.
Some of the attention fell on Rep. Tricia Cotham, who switched parties in April after winning election as a Democrat.
The 2022 election started Cotham’s second go-round as a state legislator. She spent about 10 years in the House beginning in 2007 as a supporter of reproductive rights.
Cotham’s party switch gave House Republicans a veto-proof majority that Cooper could not overcome this year. Cotham voted with the rest of her GOP colleagues for the abortion restrictions.
The law is packed with new hurdles. In addition to the 12-week limit, the law specifies that the state-mandated counseling required 72-hours before an abortion must be done in person rather than over the phone.
The Guttmacher Institute reported that abortions in the state dropped 31% in July from the month before. The report says the two-trip requirement is a barrier some patients cannot overcome.
Republican legislators agreed to Medicaid expansion this year, making North Carolina the 40th state to offer government health insurance to low-income adults who make too much to qualify for regular Medicaid and too little to obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Health insurance is available to adults 19 through 64 who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Republicans passed a law in 2013 preventing expansion, and they refused, for the most part, to reconsider, even as Democrats made it a priority and Cooper spent years pushing for it. Senate Leader Phil Berger, once a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion, announced last year he had changed his mind. That started the slow march toward the Dec. 1 launch of Medicaid expansion in the state.
The federal government is picking up 90% of the cost. No money is coming out of the state budget to pay for care for people who receive health insurance through expansion.
Additionally, the federal government is giving the state $1.6 billion over two years for signing on.
On Dec. 1, more than 270,000 people were enrolled in Medicaid through expansion, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The state estimates that about 600,000 people are eligible.
NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.
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