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North Carolina Republicans have often complained about Democrats turning to the courts to challenge redistricting maps and voting laws, but now they’re saying lawsuits – or the threat of them – are the key to fair elections.
At least that was the message North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last week. Whatley was a panelist in a discussion about protecting the vote. What it was really about was perpetuating the falsehood of widespread election fraud.
The panel included former President Trump’s one-time acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Thomas Hicks, co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Whatley’s advice to conservatives on monitoring elections is to spend big on lawyers. “Our legal budget was three quarters of our annual operating budget, but it’s worth every penny,” he said.
Whatley was invited to CPAC to explain why North Carolina did not experience the voter fraud that Trump falsely claims cost him the election elsewhere. The answer is simple: Trump claimed no fraud because he won in North Carolina. But Whatley said his state delivered a fair result because the GOP’s relentless legal vigilance kept cheaters from finding votes for Democrats.
That scrutiny was particularly effective, the GOP chairman said, in the election for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. In that race Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, edged Incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, by 401 votes out of more than 5 million cast.
“You can’t tell me in 100 North Carolina counties they couldn’t have come up with four votes [in each] if I didn’t have lawyers and attorneys in every single one of those counties,” Whatley said. “The Democrats fielded protests in 92 of our counties. I paid over $750,000 in legal fees just to make sure we were countering on those protests.”
Whatley said it’s fortunate that the Republican National Committee is “working to make sure we have the legal resources that we’re going to need because this is going to be lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit.”
It’s as baffling as it is disappointing that Republican conservatives are doubling down on the idea of pervasive election fraud. The 2020 election was intently scrutinized – and Trump’s lawyers did file “lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit” – but they failed to show any fraud. The danger of persisting in this illusion should be clear enough after Trump supporters stormed the U.S Capitol to “stop the steal.”
That didn’t give pause to Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who moderated the discussion. He said at the start, “There was widespread voter fraud in way too many states, most especially in big cities run by the Democrat machine. That is a fact.”
No, that is a lie, a lie that weakens democracy by undermining confidence in elections. Republicans need to repeat it because it lays the foundation for another serious wave of voter suppression laws. Republicans have been busy proposing 253 bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access in upcoming elections.
The Republican push to limit democracy comes as Congress is considering a bill – H.B.-1 – that would limit partisan gerrymandering, make it easier to vote and reduce the ability of large, anonymous donors to shape elections. The Biden administration endorsed the bill Monday saying the “landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.” The House could vote on it as early as Wednesday.
Whatley and the others on stage for the session – four white, middle-aged men discussing how to “protect the vote” – see HR-1 as a threat. “This is the single biggest assault on election integrity in the history of our country,” Whatley said.
No, that title belongs to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an insurrection fueled by lies about election fraud. And no amount of lawyering can change that.