Chris Kromm is the Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies and Publisher of Facing South, the Institute’s online magazine. From 1997 to 2000, Mr. Kromm was the Editor of the Southern Exposure magazine, the Institute's award-winning journal of politics and culture. A frequently sought commentator on Southern politics and current issues, Mr. Kromm has appeared on over 300 TV and radio broadcasts, including American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” CNN “Live,” C-SPAN, Democracy Now, KCRW California’s “To the Point,” Mississippi Public Radio, MSNBC's “All In with Chris Hayes,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Pacifica Radio, WUNC North Carolina’s “The State of Things" and XM Satellite Radio. Mr. Kromm’s writing has appeared in The Herald-Sun, The Hill, The Huffington Post, The Independent Weekly, The Nation, The News & Observer, Salon, and other publications. Mr. Kromm has co-authored more than 60 reports on topics ranging from the changing demographic and political landscape in the South to money in politics, labor, and voting rights—with coverage in more than 30 media outlets, including ABC News, Associated Press, BBC World, Bloomberg News, CNN News, NPR, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Reuters, The Washington Post and USA Today.
Benjamin Barber is the Democracy Program Coordinator at the Institute for Southern Studies, and a Contributing Writer for Facing South, the Institute’s online magazine. Mr. Barber’s research focuses on voting rights, democracy, and Southern history. Mr. Barber is a graduate of the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and holds a B.A. in History from Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina. Previously, Mr. Barber interned with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama and served as the historian for the North Carolina NAACAP Youth and College Division.
To train the next generation of lawyers in the law and practice of voting rights, ballot access, campaign finance, election administration, and democracy protection.
By Chris Kromm & Benjamin Barber
Mar 13, 2023, 8:00 AM
This commentary was originally published in Facing South on February 16, 2023.
With threats to democracy becoming more rampant and systemic barriers continuing to undermine fundamental democratic institutions and impair voters’ ability to cast a ballot, a coalition of advocates and experts have set forth a list of bipartisan policy measures to improve North Carolina’s democratic infrastructure and enhance the quality of the state’s electoral process.
“Today, our state is a cautionary tale of the threats facing our democracy,” the authors noted. “Popular programs our state once embraced, like voter-owned elections to curb Big Money, have been eliminated, and our state has been slow to adopt common-sense measures such as full online voter registration.”
In partnership with 15 leading state and national organizations, the new report,“Blueprint for a Stronger Democracy,” (see below) outlines a series of best practices to preserve and enhance North Carolina’s democratic institutions. The proposals examined have been embraced by Democrats and Republicans in other states and address a broad range of democracy issues, such as voter access, election administration, and ethics laws.
This year’s report, which is an updated version of an original blueprint produced in 2021, details North Carolina’s proud legacy of expanding voting access, improving elections, and strengthening democratic institutions. Two decades ago, with the backing of pro-democracy advocates, lawmakers came together to implement groundbreaking proposals that would enhance and strengthen the state’s electoral system, including same-day voter registration during early voting, strong campaign finance disclosure laws, and “voter-owned” public financing of council of state and judicial elections.
However, the experts note that in recent years significant democratic gains in the state have been stifled by an eroding voting infrastructure and systematic attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process. “Chronic underfunding of basic infrastructure has paired with growing threats of intimidation and subversion to make this a critical moment for our democratic institutions,” the authors warned.
The comprehensive report offers two dozen innovative solutions for North Carolina lawmakers to consider. Most have been successfully implemented elsewhere and enjoy “broad public support across partisan and ideological lines,” as the report notes. Others are forward-thinking ideas that, if carried out in our state, would place North Carolina at the forefront in defending and expanding democratic engagement.
The more than 20 state and national experts contributing to the report explore initiatives for North Carolina in seven areas:
The report was developed by the Institute for Southern Studies, a nonprofit media, research, and education center based in Durham, North Carolina, and publisher of Facing South, and North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, a nonpartisan pro-democracy coalition. Contributors to the report include the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Fix the Court, Forward Justice, League of Women Voters of North Carolina, North Carolina Asian Americans Together, North Carolina Black Alliance, North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Voters’ Right to Know.
“Democracy shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” the authors concluded. “Together, we can find workable solutions that bring us closer to the ideal of a state truly of, by, and for the people.”