The Slatest

Sorry, North Carolina, But You Don’t Really Qualify as a Democracy Anymore

A woman votes on November 8, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Update, Jan. 5, 2017: Andrew Gelman writes for Slate that the claim about North Carolina was based on bad research.

A group of experts that rates the integrity of elections around the world say North Carolina can’t really be considered a democracy anymore. The state where the outgoing governor signed a law stripping his successor of certain powers scored 58/100 in the 2016 election, according to the Electoral Integrity Project, a joint effort between Harvard University and the University of Sydney. That places the state alongside the likes of Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.


“If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table—a deeply flawed, partly-free, democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world,” writes Andrew Reynolds, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who is also an EIP adviser.


Reynolds was one of the experts responsible for creating the model to evaluate the quality of elections around the world, which involves measuring “50 moving parts of an election process.” And in an op-ed piece for the News & Observer, Reynolds notes he would have never imagined that his state would rank so poorly. But what happens on Election Day is really just the tip of the iceberg. Reynolds explains:


That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy – Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

Reynolds focused on North Carolina, but looking at EIP’s data it is clear the state is hardly the worst in the United States. Arizona, for example, scored 53/100 while Wisconsin received a 54/100.

That’s the overall ranking though. In a few aspects North Carolina’s elections aren’t just the worst in the United States, but the worst in the world:

North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.