Looking back the first warning sign was his crowing: For years, the professor wrote, he’d traveled the world. He’d set up elections in strange places like Sudan. Along with his Danish colleague he’d designed the first model – measuring over 50 moving parts of the political process – to determine whether elections were fair. He’d worked with a professor from Harvard who’d used his model to create the ‘Election Integrity Project’ (EIP) which everyone agrees is the best measurement of how free and fair and democratic nations are.
Then the professor set off in a different direction: Beneath the headline – ‘North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy’ – he wrote North Carolina only scored ‘58’ on the EIP election integrity test which meant NC (like Cuba) was a failure as a Democracy.
A few days later, happy beyond measure, the professor was back in newspaper: This time beneath a headline that read – The op-ed heard round the world – he wrote, “Last week the News and Observer published my op-ed on the failing grade North Carolina received for our elections and… boy did it touch a nerve.”
His op-ed, he said, had gone viral with tweets reaching 5 million people, he’d been in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, and Politico, and he’d been retweeted by Paul Krugman and Fareed Zakaria.
He was in hog-heaven.
But things were about to take a turn for the worst.
One of the people who’d read the professor’s first column was another professor at Columbia University – whose antennae twitched: The Columbia professor then went to work, researching the EIP, and posted an op-ed of his own: He reported 1) that according to the EIP 27 states are less democratic than North Korea; 2) that North Carolina wasn’t even the worst state, that 12 states – including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – are less democratic than NC; and 3) the Columbia professor included a link in his blog to a global map (by EIP) ranking nations in categories from Very Democratic and Very Undemocratic. On the map the U.S.A. and North Korea were rated the same.
And, if you think it over, there’s one other simple fact: North Carolina just voted an incumbent Governor out of office. Could that happen in a failed Democracy? Could it happen in North Korea?
The professor who wrote the op-ed – saying NC is not a democracy – was Andrew Reynolds. He teaches political science at UNC Chapel Hill.
The News and Observer published his stories. Twice.
And driving home Thursday night I heard Professor Reynolds on NPR, enjoying his newfound celebrity, being interviewed by Frank Stasio who doted over him for twenty minutes.