- Democracy North Carolina is a reliably left-wing organization that seeks to alter how elections are conducted in North Carolina
- The organization has consistently pursued an agenda to weaken the integrity of elections in North Carolina
- North Carolina elections need a better vision than the one offered by Democracy NC
Democracy North Carolina (Democracy NC) touts itself as an equal opportunity voice of the people that has equally pursued actions against “Democrats and Republicans since 1991.” However, the organization has shown itself to be a reliable advocate of a left-wing political agenda, particularly over the past decade.
Who is Democracy NC?
Democracy NC started out as Democracy South which, in turn, was created in 1991 by the Institute for Southern Studies, a left-wing organization that likes to hurl accusations of racism against anyone who opposes its progressive agenda.
For the first two decades of its existence, Democracy NC was essentially the personal vehicle of liberal activist Bob Hall, who used it to infiltrate the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) with the cooperation of then SBE Executive Director, Gary Bartlett.
The Hall-Bartlett partnership led to SBE and Democracy NC becoming intertwined to the point where the writing of SBE voter guides was outsourced to Hall in 2004. Bartlett and Hall also coordinated lobbying of the General Assembly for more money for the SBE in 2012.
The relationship was cozy enough for Hall to ghost-write a recommendation letter for Bartlett to place on SBE letterhead supporting Democracy NC’s bid for grant money.
Democracy NC replaced Hall with Tomas Lopez in early 2018. Lopez had previously worked for progressive groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law in New York City and the Southern Poverty Law Center (which is best known for its “hate map” that lumps together conservative Christian groups like the Family Research Council with the Klu Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam).
Under Lopez’s leadership, Democracy NC has been a little more low-key than it was under Hall. It also appears that the group’s influence over the SBE waned after Bartlett’s departure as executive director. However, Democracy NC is still pursuing the same agenda of undermining the integrity of voting in North Carolina (more on that below).
What does Democracy NC want?
Any pretense of nonpartisanship by Democracy NC was obliterated by its becoming a founding group member of Blueprint NC, a left-wing coalition designed to push progressive causes across North Carolina. Blueprint NC is probably best known for a 2013 strategy memo that called for its members (including Democracy NC) to attack the new Pat McCrory administration with a goal to “eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”
The bread and butter of Democracy NC is creating what they think is a better democracy for themselves. That includes the government paying for politicians’ election campaigns (what they call “voter-owned elections”) and weakening laws to protect the integrity of North Carolina’s elections.
The latter was revealed by a lawsuit filed in May of 2020. In Democracy NC v. NC State Board of Elections, the organization sought to (pages 68-71):
- Alter the 25-day voter registration deadline, needed to give county boards of elections time to verify the registrant’s information, to just three days
- Overturn the law that only allows the voter or the voter’s near relative to request an absentee ballot, allowing political operatives to “assist” voters by submitting absentee ballot requests
- Eliminate the witness requirement for absentee ballots, allowing ballots to be accepted without verification that the voter was the person who marked the ballot
- Allow county boards to advantage some voters by gerrymandering early voting hours (setting more voting hours for some early “one-stop” voting sites than others)
- Require county boards of elections to maintain unmanned drop boxes for ballots
For Democracy NC, the endgame was to create an election system in which political groups can gain control, herding ballots like cattle. Fortunately, the federal judge in the case rejected most of their demands, only issuing an injunction requiring the SBE to create a uniform system for county boards of election to notify voters who do not have a witness signature for their ballot.
Despite that setback, there is little doubt that Democracy NC will continue to pursue those goals through future lawsuits and other means.
Who pays for all this?
As with other members of the web of organizations that belong to Blueprint NC, Democracy NC gets much of its funding from liberal organizations. According to its own latest available financial statement, Democracy NC’s biggest financial backer, by far, is the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation with $975,000.
Other major backers include the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust ($200.000), the Educational Foundation of America ($100,000), NEO Philanthropy, Inc. ($125,000), and Wellspring Advisors, LLC ($275,000).
And what are those groups getting for that money? In addition to lawsuits like the one previously mentioned here, they get lobbying. According to Democracy NC’s latest available tax forms, they spend well over $200,000 per year to lobby for left-wing causes, including $280,247 in 2018. They also provided grants to progressive groups like NC Common Cause, NC PIRG, and Southern Vision Alliance.
A better vision for North Carolina
A Better Carolina develops a better vision for elections in North Carolina; where the integrity of elections is protected and voters can be assured that their vote will be counted and not diluted by illegally cast ballots, where boards of election are held accountable, where voter ID (as required by the North Carolina Constitution) is implemented, and where redistricting is done transparently and is subject to bipartisan accountability.
For 2020, pursuing our vision of A Better Carolina has meant researching and reporting on problems with the NC State Board of Elections (SBE). That includes reports on the SBE’s misinterpretation of state law on reporting absentee votes, SBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell’s request that the General Assembly weaken voter protections, the SBE’s attempt to grant Bell power to disregard election laws, Bell’s order to county boards to accept illegally transmitted ballots and not match signatures for absentee ballots, her collusive settlement with Democratic attorney Marc Elias to jettison election laws, and her bait-and-switch on North Carolina’s absentee ballot witness requirement.
(We have also defended the SBE when it was warranted, such as against claims that the SBE’s plans for early voting sites discriminated against Republicans and that it and county boards were racist in how they handled absentee ballots.)
There is a better way to conduct elections in North Carolina. And it starts by not by buying what Democracy NC is selling.