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Can North Carolina Catch Up With Michigan On Democracy Reforms?

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Democracy, Elections, Future, Government, North Carolina | 0 comments

The Center for American Progress (CAP) just published a report that was very complimentary to Michigan for the voting and redistricting reforms it has made in the last several years. Through their reforms, the report claims the state has:

  • Increased voter registration and turnout.
  • Closed the racial gap in voter participation.
  • Ended gerrymandering of electoral districts through an independent redistricting commission.
  • Promoted citizen-initiated ballot measures to generate citizen empowerment.

In the 2030s and 2040s, when our children and grandchildren are stepping into adult roles, wouldn’t we want these things for them?

North Carolina 2040 has already run an article – Michigan’s Voters Can Make Laws – Why Can’t North Carolina’s — that partly explains how a difference in the two states’ constitutions made this progress possible. Michigan voters have the right to add laws and constitutional amendments to their election ballots through citizen petitions. Supporters of expanding voting participation and independent redistricting have made good use of this right in the last few years.

Examining the report’s claims

Here is the report’s summary of the changes Michigan has made beginning in 2018:

  • Ensuring that eligible voters have access to online voter registration and providing new digital tools for voter registration drives
  • Increasing transparency of the voter registration list maintenance process and joining the Electronic Registration Information Center for improved list maintenance procedures
  • Ensuring that all voters can request a mail-in ballot without an excuse
  • Allowing early in-person voting for nine days prior to Election Day
  • Automatically registering eligible voters through the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Ensuring that voters can register to vote at the polls on Election Day
  • Putting in place an independent citizens’ redistricting commission
  • Improving the vote-by-mail process for members of the military
  • Allowing voters to sign sworn affidavits attesting to their identity in lieu of presenting voter identification at the polls
  • Requiring that all voters have access to drop boxes for mail-in ballots
  • Ensuring that the state provides prepaid postage for mail-in ballots
  • Allowing voters to opt-in to automatically receive a mail-in ballot for every election
  • Shoring up protections for post-election auditing procedures and election

North Carolina already does some of these things. For instance, it has early in-person voting, and no-excuse mail-in voting. What they do not have is registration on election day, automatic registration when renewing auto licenses, an independent citizens’ redistricting committee, drop-boxes for absentee ballots, prepaid postage for mail-in ballots, membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center, and an opt-in to receiving mail-in ballots for future elections.

What is the bottom line on these reforms?

When so many changes took place, it is difficult to say how much difference any one of them made. However, I thought it would be interesting to see what has happened to voter turnout compared to North Carolina’s turnout. Since North Carolina did not make the same type of changes, it can act as a (sort of) control group. Like CAP, I focused on midterm elections because presidential year turnout tends to swing wildly.

Midterm Voter Turnout

YearMichiganNorth Carolina
201444.0%42.6%
201858.4%50.5%
202259.9%50.3%
The percentage of eligible citizens who voted*

It looks like Michigan has succeeded in driving higher levels of citizen engagement through its reforms and ballot initiatives. My spreadsheet showing the calculations is available here:

On the issue of eliminating racial disparities, CAP cites Census Bureau figures and I could find no better sources. These showed the gap between voter registration of Black citizens and non-Hispanic Whites in Michigan improved from a 9% deficit to parity between 2018 and 2022. The voter registration of Blacks in North Carolina was still 5% lower than non-Hispanic Whites in 2022.

The impact of Michigan’s independent redistricting committee was covered in my earlier post — Will the Next Generation Be Hopeful or Cynical About Democracy in 2040? The key message was that Michigan’s citizen-driven redistricting process resulted in the election of lawmakers that closely reflected the voters’ choice by party.

All in all, it looks like North Carolina has a lot to learn from the reforms that have been made in Michigan. The General Assembly could take Michigan’s reforms as a checklist and have them all enacted in time for the 2024 election. The question is, do they want more democracy for our children and grandchildren?

*CAP uses Census Bureau estimates based on surveys to calculate similar figures in their report, but I found a large variance between the Census Bureau estimates for votes cast and the actual vote totals. My percentages use the Census Bureau’s estimates for the number of citizens of voting age in each state and the votes cast number as reported by the Michigan Secretary of State and the North Carolina State Board of Elections

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