by Jim Stirling
Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation
While the budget negations between the North Carolina House and Senate may still be ongoing, the redistricting process continues to be on the minds both of election activists and the media. With such state and even national interest in North Carolina’s redistricting process, the Civitas Center for Public Integrity is continuing its breakdown of the various groups on the left seeking to influence this year’s redistricting process. We previously looked at Common Cause NC. This time, we focus on another organization involved heavily in the redistricting and election litigation, Democracy North Carolina.
What is Democracy North Carolina?
Democracy North Carolina began as Democracy South in 1991 as a project of the Institute for Southern Studies, an organization that prides itself as an advocate for progressive change. The Institute for Southern Studies is the parent organization behind Carolina Public Press and Facing South, a progressive publication with a history of attacking conservatives.
Democracy NC is a founding member of Blueprint NC, an organization that gained infamy with their strategy memo directing members to “eviscerate, mitigate, litigate, cogitate and agitate” the state’s leadership in 2013. Under their former leader, Bob Hall, they organized many attacks on North Carolina’s election law via litigation or lobbying the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Hall has been an influential figure in North Carolina’s election process for years. Civitas has written several articles over the years outlining his questionable backroom conversations with members of the State Board of Elections and being outsourced work on their behalf. Susan Myrick outlined Hall’s long history and influence in North Carolina Election law before his retirement here.
While Hall may no longer be leading Democracy NC, both he and the organization have continued their involvement in North Carolina election laws.
Election law influence
Democracy NC has been a part of many of North Carolina’s election lawsuits, either by submitting amicus briefs supporting other progressive litigants and groups or by direct involvement in these lawsuits. They have also been a significant organization in the fight to change election law to allow for same-day registration for voting and stopping Voter ID laws. They also were responsible for trying to stop individuals from reporting on possible voter fraud cases by attacking and suing individuals for contesting ballots in the 2016 election.
Preventing the implementation of voter ID has been one of Democracy NC’s main objectives since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2010. They joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the State Board of Elections in 2015, accusing them of violating the National Voter Registration Act — known as “motor voter law.” The State Board of Elections immediately provided data and charts to demonstrate that the lawsuit was most likely frivolous.
During the 2020 election, Democracy NC looked to implement extreme changes to North Carolina’s election laws by suing the State Board of Elections. Using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext, Democracy NC attempted the following election law changes:
The federal district court eventually issued an injunction on the case in August 2020. The court only ruled in favor of the plaintiff’s request that county boards be required to notify voters when their ballots were rejected.
Democracy NC sought to uphold the settlement of North Carolina Alliance of Retired Americans v. State of North Carolina, a controversial settlement that led to the extension of absentee ballot deadlines, expanded the ballot cure process, and would have allowed for the acceptance of ballots dropped off by a third party.
While Democracy NC has not been a leading organization suing over redistricting maps prior to 2020, they have been a consistent backer. They have filed amicus briefs regarding various redistricting suits, siding with other progressive groups against North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative maps. According to the leftist law and policy organization Brennan Center for Justice, they have filed amicus briefs in:
Democracy NC has continued to seek influence on election law by engaging in the redistricting process. Recently, they have partnered with another progressive policy advocate, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, as part of the “Map Our Futures campaign” to organize their coalition.
Democracy NC has received grants from prominent left-leaning funding groups, such as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Proteus Fund Inc., and the George Soros–backed Tides Foundation. Their primary backer is the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Winston-Salem that funds many of North Carolina’s most progressive institutions.
Democracy NC Financials
Source: Mapping the Left: Democracy NC
The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s 2017 financial report indicated that they donated $3,650,000 to Democracy NC from 2013 to 2017. Additional financial records from Z. Smith Reynolds show this funding has continued over the years. Z. Smith Reynolds has provided $1,525,000 in funding from 2018 to 2020 for general operations grants or part of their Millennial Voter Partnership project to Democracy NC.
Democracy NC’s financial reports indicate they also act as a financial provider for other progressive groups. You will find some of their most recent grant disbursements below.
2019 Grants by Democracy NC
2018 Grants by Democracy NC
2017 Grants by Democracy NC
While Democracy NC attempts to market itself as an equal-opportunity good-governance group, everything from its liberal organization funding to its advocacy for extreme progressive election laws shows it is a reliable advocate for the political left’s agenda.