Before you skip over that long list of judicial races on your election ballot, let me share the story of the Watauga County Board of Elections and the Eggers brothers, one of whom answers to the name Four Eggers.
The story remains to be finished, and the state Supreme Court will write the next chapter. That’s one of the many reasons to vote in the four (yes) elections for seats on the Supreme Court.
But start with Four, née Stacy C. Eggers IV, the Watauga County attorney. His little brother Luther is chairman of the Watauga Board of Elections. The Eggers are Republicans. Republicans run Watauga County. Four is the mastermind.
One other fact to note: every county has a board of elections with three members, two from the same party as the governor. Thus, all 100 boards of election are effectively under Republican control.
Now, picture Watauga County. It’s in the mountains. Boone is the county seat. Boone is a Democratic town. In 2012, the early-voting site at Appalachian State University produced 35 percent of the early voters, 91 percent of those were age 18 to 25.
So, you’re Four Eggers and you want to minimize the Democratic vote in Boone this year. You know that younger voters skew Democratic and they turned out in big numbers in 2012. What do you do?
You eliminate the ASU early-voting site, forcing students to go to another site off-campus.
Which is exactly what Four and Luther Eggers did. When aggrieved Democrats appealed to the State Board of Elections, they were rebuffed. The State Board is Republican too.
Then the Democrats went before a judge. Judge Donald Stephens found that the Republicans were discriminating against younger voters. Stephens cited the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says the voting rights of 18-year-olds and up “shall not be denied or abridged” by any state “on account of age.”
Stephens ordered the State Board to see that early voting was conducted at ASU. The Board didn’t like it, but it finally relentedlate on Oct. 22, with the early-voting period set to begin Oct. 23. Voting at ASU has been heavy so far.
A few minutes after the State Board did its duty, however, the Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling staying Stephens’ order. It was too late to affect the Watauga case. But the court will decide, before the next election, whether the absence of early-voting sites on college campuses violates the 26th Amendment.
Which brings me to judicial elections. In North Carolina, we elect every judge, appellate judge and Supreme Court justice, even though they’re not supposed to tell us, when they run, how they’ll decide cases (except that they’ll be fair and impartial), and their party affiliations aren’t listed on the ballot. Which is crazy, because they all have a party.
So we don’t have much to go on when we vote, but we do know this much. The Republicans control the other two branches of state government. If they go too far, and they pass something that violates the federal or state constitutions, or that conflicts with federal law, only the courts can order them to stop.
In theory, Republican judges could do this with the same “fair and impartial” approach as Democrats. But the Republican Party doesn’t believe that for a minute, which is why they unloaded a barrage of attack ads earlier this year against Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat, and why they’re spending millions more this fall to elect Republicans to the bench.
Clearly, the Republican Party believes Republican judges are more likely to review Republican laws and uphold them. By the same logic, if we want judges who’ll review questionable Republican laws with an eye toward whether they conflict with federal law or the two constitutions, we should elect Democrats.
Has the General Assembly passed questionable laws? Yesa slew of them.
Our Republican legislators have been gutting environmental regulations, which may violate federal water-quality laws. A trial judge ordered Duke Energy to clean up its coal-ash pits after the Dan River disaster. That order, before it’s enforced, will be reviewed by the state Supreme Court.
In education, our Republican legislators enacted a voucher program giving public funds to private schools. A trial judge ruled that vouchers violate the state constitution. His ruling is before the Supreme Court.
Unregulated charter schools? Privatizing state Commerce Department functions? Denying LGBT citizens equal protection in the workplace? Denying women equal pay for equal work? That’s just a sample of state actionsand inactionthat raise federal or constitutional issues.
Of course, we the voters could replace Republican legislators with Democrats, independents or Libertarians if we don’t like what they’re doing. But that’s where the case of Four Eggers rears its ugly head.
Because the very worst Republican lawsenforced by the worst Republican officialsare intended to keep many of us from voting. These include the racial gerrymandering of election districts. The imposition of a photo ID requirement to vote, starting in 2016. Eliminating the ability to register and vote at the same time during the early-voting period. Moving early-voting sites away from campuses, especially historically black colleges and universities.
Watauga wasn’t the only such move. It was one of many hatched by Republican boards of election.
The not-so-secret weakness of the Republican Party is that the more people vote, the more likely Democrats are to win. Since lower-income and younger voters are the easiest to discourage, they’re the ones Republicans target with laws that, in my view, violate a fundamental principle of our constitutionswhich is that we’re entitled to a democracy.
When Democrats controlled the legislative process, I often voted for Republican judges. This year, I won’t.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Suppressing the Youth Vote .”