NAACP-North Carolina President William Barber said Thursday that Republican Thom Tillis did not beat out incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan through his own efforts but because of changes to the state voting law passed last year.
Tillis edged out Hagan with 49 percent of the vote to Hagan’s 47.3 percent after a tight campaign. The difference came down to about 48,500 votes.
Speaking at a press conference, Barber called Tillis’ victory a “repudiation” of his policies, not a validation of what he has done in the state House as speaker.
Barber also called the election a victory for the Moral Monday movement because of the strong turnout in the face of new state policies on voting passed last year.
“The diverse coalition that makes up the ‘Forward Together’ movement came out in record numbers Tuesday to express one sentiment in particular: ‘We will never go back, we will never retreat,’” he said. “The turnout was a record for a midterm election and was made up of African-Americans, Whites, Latinos and people of all different classes, faiths, sexualities and ages.”
In the end, 2,916,068 voters showed out for the midterm elections, setting a new record. The previous record was set in 2010 when 2.7 million voted were cast.
Forty-four percent of the 6.6 million eligible voters cast ballots in the election, two percent higher than the previous midterm turnout record.
Despite the record-setting year, Barber said that changes to voting regulations under the Voter Identification and Verification Act (VIVA) passed last year cost Hagan the election.
Under VIVA, this year early voting was trimmed down to one week before the election, same-day registration was eliminated, allowing voters to vote out of their precinct was also prohibited.
To affect the outcome of the election, about 49,000 voters would have had to have been “suppressed” by not registering in time before the election or by going to the wrong precinct. And all of those 49,000 would have to have been planning on casting ballots for Hagan, with none going for Tillis or Libertarian Sean Haugh.
“We do not know yet how many people were discouraged by the elimination of Sunday voting, same-day registration and out of precinct voting, but we will analyze the results in the days to come,” Barber said.
He said NAACP-NC lawyers were analyzing the election results to search out “suppressed voters”
“We already know however, and this is important we believe for the media, that according to the Brennan Center (for Justice) report that in the North Carolina Senate race House Speaker Thom Tillis beat Kay Hagan by a margin of 1.7 percent, or about 48,000 votes,” Barber said. “This was done at the same time, according to their report, that North Carolina voters were for the first time voting under one of the harshest new election laws in the country. In fact the worst voter suppression law in the country and the worst since Jim Crow (laws). And it was a law that Tillis helped to craft.”
The Brennan Center is based out of the New York University School of Law.
Barber said that the figure might not be far off of the 49,000 “suppressed votes” that could technically have turned the election around.
Barber said that the outcome of the state House and Senate races signaled a change in the state toward liberal policies.
“It should be noted as we do the analysis that North Carolina was the only state in the country where you had a change in incumbency,” he said. “For instance, where you had a Democrat pick up seats in the state Legislature in the House and the Senate.”
It should be noted that while Democrats gained four seats in the House, in the Senate Republicans gained a seat, not Democrats.
Republicans hold 73 seats in the House and 44 seats in the Senate to the Democrats’ 44 in the House and 16 in the Senate.
Both the Senate and House still maintain GOP supermajorities, Republicans also controlling the Governor’s Mansion.
“We should look what happened in Asheville, in Buncombe County in the west,” Barber said. “That is normally considered somewhat conservative where two of the current leading members of extremist ranks of the Republican Party actually lost.”
Barber said that the shift, based in more liberal metropolitan areas, is a sign of a state shift.
There are 170 seats in the General Assembly.