RALEIGH — Let me say this with as much tact and respect as I can muster: If you truly believe that the level of democracy in North Carolina is in any way comparable to the level of democracy in Cuba, then you are either 1) an ignoramus, 2) an unrepentant communist, or 3) a college professor.
An ignoramus wouldn’t know that in dictatorships such as Cuba, competitive politics is illegal, all media outlets are either owned or controlled by the dictators in power, and dissenters are routinely imprisoned and killed. The unrepentant communist would know these things, and approve.
But what of the college professor? This isn’t a hypothetical question. As you may know by now, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill named Andrew Reynolds wrote a Dec. 22 op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer in which he cited research from the Electoral Integrity Project to assert that “North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.”
I’ll explain the details in a moment, but right from the first you should spot the problem. Cuba and Indonesia don’t even belong in the same category, much less Cuba and North Carolina. In any line of inquiry, if you develop a model that produces nonsensical outcomes, you go back and see what’s wrong with your model.
Unless, of course, you don’t know any better (ignoramus) or actually think the perverse outcome is good (communist). Assuming Reynolds is neither, why would he excoriate North Carolina’s election laws based on the results of an obviously faulty comparison? I can only guess that like many denizens of the modern academy, he sees truth as subjective and instrumental, not objective and fundamental. His purpose in the op-ed was to attack state Republicans — not just for enacting voter ID laws but also for enacting House Bill 2, which has nothing to do with the election process.
Comparing North Carolina to Cuba came in handy. It got Reynolds op-ed space and social-media shares and national coverage. I saw hundreds of Democratic activists and politicians who ought to have known better trumpet it. Reynolds even got a follow-up piece in the N&O in which he bragged about the exposure he got and tried to turn it into an argument for redistricting reform in North Carolina. Unfortunately, his antics have done nothing but hurt the cause of redistricting reform, a cause I have championed for decades, which frustrates and angers me.
How many people who gladly peddled this nonsense actually went online to read the research Reynolds was citing? It consisted of a survey sent to other professors. In North Carolina, there were 29 respondents. Most identified themselves as rather left-wing (an average of 3.1 on a scale in which 1 was liberal and 10 was conservative). While some of the questions were related to public policy, others pertained to private action (such as whether the professors thought media coverage was biased) or assumed progressive preferences (such government-funded campaigns).
North Carolina’s worst ratings were, indeed, on voting districts. We got a 7 out of 100. Cuba got a 52. We got a 28 for election laws and 73 for election procedures, vs. Cuba’s 43 and 82 respectively. Again, a reasonable person hoping to take such a research model somewhere useful would see that result, strap on a parachute, and jump out — not eagerly ride it into the side of a cliff, as Reynolds and his followers have done.
I advocate reforms that would generate more competitive congressional and legislative districts. I did so when Democrats were gerrymandering the maps — the 2001 districts they tried to enact, until the courts stopped them, were far more contorted than the current ones — and I’ve continued to do so with Republicans in charge.
But I won’t scream “wolf” at the top of my lungs whenever I see a terrier. I’ll leave that boyish task to ignoramuses, communists, and college professors.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation. You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.