Q&A with professor Andrew Reynolds, author of op-ed on North Carolina's democratic status
In late December, UNC political science professor Andrew Reynolds wrote that North Carolina is no longer considered a highly functioning democracy. State & National Editor Corey Risinger sat down with Reynolds — who has served as an international consultant on issues of electoral and constitutional design — to talk about his op-ed and the Electoral Integrity Project.
The Daily Tar Heel: Was this determination made before surprise special sessions in December?
Andrew Reynolds: The Electoral Integrity Project just measures the election moment — I’m adding to that the context of (North) Carolina. There are other states than (North) Carolina that have weakened democracies. But (North) Carolina is also emblematic because it has the worst districting of anywhere, and it has systematic marginalization of poorer and people of color, which the courts recognize. No one really disputes this. We even have quotes from Republicans in (North) Carolina off the record, and on the record, saying “You know, we are deliberately doing this because we want to stop black people voting ... ” So basically, I was saying if you add all those things together, (North) Carolina’s democracy is heading in the wrong direction and we need to be self-aware of that. We need to try to turn the car around.
DTH: What does that self-awareness look like?
AR: The self-awareness looks like you self-assess your advantages, your positives and your negatives. You try and correct your negatives. It’s pretty obvious where the negatives are. And in my second op-ed, I’m saying, O.K., let’s just take on one thing. Let’s not be overwhelmed by trying to do everything. Let us take on districting because districting unlocks the key. If you have competitive districts, fairly drawn, nonpartisan, you begin to get some competition, so you begin to get representatives who have to respond to the vote. Who are more moderate and also are vastly against HB2, are against the polarization.
DTH: Do you see your piece going viral as an indicator of the public’s anxieties?
AR: We’ve broken down in a civil discourse way. There was a marketplace for ideas; there was a meeting place for ideas. One of the indicators of a vibrant democracy is that Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, the left and the right, they talk. You meet. You’re around your kids’ soccer games, you’re in student classrooms, you’re at bars. You talk about stuff. And you go home and you meet with your family and you talk with your family. And that is a healthy thing. But in N.C., we’ve broken down. No one is talking to each other or the level of communication has atrophied dramatically. I think the tone has been set there at the top. The tone in the state house, the General Assembly, is very personal, very confrontational.
DTH: How could the federal government affect the state’s democracy?
AR: It’s really hard to say. I think that would be an answer I give to almost every question about the Trump administration because we really don’t know. It’s very hard to predict an unpredictable leader. I mean, the portents are with the type of people being appointed as cabinet secretaries and other leaders are that things will be much more conservative, much more pro-life, much more anti-black, anti-Latino, much more anti-LGBTQ. Those are the portents, but then, who knows. Because the portents of Trump have always been thrown up in the air ... At the end of the day, I’ve increasingly come to the view that what you need to do is start local. Because I actually think that where we live is conditioned. And our happiness and our lives are conditioned by sort of three concentric rings of impact. There’s your town, your community, there’s your state and there’s the nation. I think that sometimes when things seem overwhelming at the national level, you have to focus on your local politics. For us, that’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Orange County and the state of North Carolina.
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