Sponsors push bill to join with other states in ending electoral college

North Carolina has a chance to help make history, said sponsors of a bill to effectively abolish the Electoral College at a Wednesday press conference.

Senate Bill 104 would have North Carolina join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — an agreement among U.S. states to award all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote.

From right: Bob Phillips of Common Cause NC, Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) and Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg)

“We have a very real electoral crisis in the United StatesAmerica,” said State Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), a primary sponsor of the bill. “Five of our 45 presidents — including two of the last three presidents — were placed in office by the Electoral College, not by the majority of Americans.”

The bill, like others passed around the country in what has become a national movement, would go into effect when enough states have passed bills that the compact to control a majority of the nation’s electoral votes — 270 out of 538.

The movement is nearly at that tipping point.

As of this month, bills have been passed by fifteen states and the District of Columbia. Together, their electoral votes add up to 196 electoral votes. Bills are being debated in another half-dozen states.

On Wednesday a similar bill passed the Maine State House and is headed to the Senate for a final enactment vote and then on to Gov. Janet Mills. A bill has passed the House and Senate in Oregon as well and is headed to Gov. Kate Brown. With North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, Nickel said, the agreement is almost within striking distance of its goal.

Because Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump were the last two presidents to be elected without winning the popular votes, these bills have not been popular with the GOP.

Some Democrats aren’t wild about the idea, either. In Nevada a bill was passed but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who argued the role of less populated states like Nevada would be diminished if the popular vote determined presidential elections.

But it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, Nickel said.

“Some will say this is a Democratic bill,” Nickel said. “It is not. In 2004, John Kerry was just 60,000 votes away in Ohio from winning the electoral college and losing the popular vote to George W. Bush. No matter what side you are on, this is just plain wrong.”

Nickel worked for Al Gore when he lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote. More recently, he said, he had trouble explaining to hi 4-year-old daughter how Hillary Clinton could have won the popular vote but lost the presidency in 2016.

Bob Phillips, executive director of non-partisan group Common Cause NC, was on hand at Wednesday’s press conference to emphasize the value to voters.

“The electoral college really has no value for our Democracy,” Phillips said. “It’s confusing in that the candidate who wins the most votes doesn’t always win the presidency. It’s outdated in that candidates campaign to a handful of battleground states and it’s detrimental in that it dilutes the strength of individual voters – one person, one vote. It’s beyond time to get rid of this outmoded, outdated and yes, outrageous system.”

Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg), another primary sponsor of the bill, said establishing the primacy of the national popular vote is about fundamental fairness — and about the average voter never feeling that their vote doesn’t count.

“The President is the only national figure for whom every American citizen votes,” Waddell said.

“Yet in truth Americans do not choose the president,” she said. “Electors representing the states do.”

With more Americans than ever voting and more ways for them to be informed than ever, Waddell said the electoral college is paternalistic and archaic.

“We cannot allow this continue to happen,” Waddell said. “It is undemocratic and just plain senseless to continue to give the presidency to someone most Americans did not vote for.”

With Republicans still holding a majority in the General Assembly, the bill is a long-shot this legislative session.

But Nickel and Waddell said they will continue to lobby their GOP colleagues and introduce bills in future sessions, if needed.

“The toughest thing I deal with is when someone says ‘My vote doesn’t matter,'” said Nickel. “That’s what this vote is about. It’s about saying, ‘Your vote matters.'”



New survey gives snapshot of LGBTQ mental health, suicide risk

The Trevor Project’s first National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health was released this week — and its results are disturbing.

Among the more dramatic results are numbers on suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth.

Thirty-nine percent of LGBTQ young people surveyed seriously considered suicide in the year leading up to the survey. That number was 54 percent among transgender and non-binary youth in the survey.

Nearly one in five LGBTQ youth actually made a suicide attempt over the same period — and one in three transgender or nonbinary youth made an attempt.

Add so-called “conversion therapy” designed to “cure” young people of being LGBTQ and the numbers get even higher.

Among LGBTQ youth in the survey who had been through conversion therapy, suicide attempts were at 42 percent. For transgender and nonbinary youth who had experienced it, the number was 57 percent.

This month Colorado became the 18th U.S. state to outlaw conversion therapy, part of a wave of such laws sweeping the nation.

In North Carolina, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in March. It would outlaw conversion therapy, part of a rapidly growing national movement.  Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and did not receive a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in any state in the Southeast.

“The data provides a sobering look at how far we still have to go to protect LGBTQ young lives,” wrote Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, in a statement accompanying the survey results. “But the survey also reveals the resilience and diversity of LGBTQ youth and provides guidance on what can be done to enable them to survive and thrive.”

Get the full report (and info on methodology) here.

Courts & the Law, News

Forum to focus on bail, court fees, criminalization of poverty

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the criminalization of poverty through the cash bail system and court fines and fees, you’ll want to mark your calendar for an event this month in Greensboro.

The free, interactive forum, presented by the Greensboro’s city council-appointed Criminal Justice Advisory Commission (GCJAC), will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 26 at Barber Park Event Center, 1502 Barber Park Dr.

Michelle Gethers-Clark, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Greensboro, and Steve Friedland, senior scholar and professor of law at Elon Law School, will lead the discussion.
The conversation will range from bail and court fees can to the results of the 2017 NC Self-Sufficiency Standard Report.

Register for the forum here.


ECU leaders release statement on conflict between Vidant and UNC System

The saga of Vidant Health vs. the UNC System continues this week, with both sides in court directed mediation to resolve the dispute over whether members of the UNC Board of Governors will continue to appoint members to the board of the eight hospital system.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper declined to answer questions on the matter last week as he visited the N.C. General Assembly, where $35 million in Medicaid reimbursement money for Vidant’s hospital in Greenville was left out the state budget passed by the Senate.

On Monday Dan Gerlach, interim chancellor of ECU and Dr. Mark Stacy, Dean of the Brody School of Medicine (whose home is in Vidant’s Greenville hospital) released a joint statement on the dispute.

Below, the statement in full from the two leaders who have, to this point, remained pretty quiet on the unfolding conflict:

To the ECU Community:

As leaders of East Carolina University and the Brody School of Medicine, we have been asked repeatedly for our position on Vidant Health’s efforts to change how the Vidant Medical Center Board is selected, and the consequences of their decision. We have preferred to work quietly and quickly to resolve differences, but it is now time to state our views.

The plain fact is that Vidant Health and Pitt County acted behind closed doors to change how appointments are made to the Vidant Medical Center Board. No one at ECU/Brody was consulted or agreed to this change. This action violated the affiliation agreement that ECU and Brody have with Vidant and Pitt County. Their action broke an agreement that has been in place, in some form, for decades. We at ECU made the decision to protect our interests and engaged legal counsel to defend the agreement.

Although we work closely together, Vidant and Brody are NOT the same entity. Vidant is an independent corporation with its own goals and motives. Its legal agreement with ECU and the University of North Carolina System has given Vidant access to benefits such as supplemental Medicaid payments, crucial payments Vidant has now put at risk through this unilateral action. ECU is one of the 17 constituent institutions of the UNC System, which is why the system and its Board of Governors are involved. Neither UNC-Chapel Hill nor UNC Health Care are part of this dispute.

We want those Medicaid payments to stay in place. The fastest way for that to happen is for Vidant and Pitt County to reverse their changes to the Board structure to comply with the affiliation agreement. It is entirely in their control and would ease concern of our communities and save time and money. We cannot afford further distraction or delay.

This is a fight that ECU did not know about, start, invite or need. The court has directed meditation, the best way to handle concerns, and we are working with the parties to complete that process as soon as possible. ECU has some issues that we want to address with our partners as well, in order to strengthen the long-term sustainability of the Brody school and its mission to serve the health care needs of the state and the region as we have for over 40 years.

Finally, there’s been a lot of discussion from other parties about what is good for ECU. We assure you that we are plenty capable of speaking for ourselves and our interests, and we will do so vigorously.

Dan Gerlach
Interim Chancellor

Mark Stacy, MD
Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences
Dean, Brody School of Medicine


LGBTQ Pride declarations, celebrations spreading to smaller towns in NC

This week Gov. Roy Cooper officially declared June Pride Month — an important acknowledgement for LGBTQ North Carolinians.

But LGBTQ advocates are also celebrating declarations in smaller communities in North Carolina — a sign of support for marginalized communities outside of the state’s largest cities.

On Thursday night the Hendersonville City Council proclaimed that June 15 will officially be Hendersonville Pride Day — a first for the community of about 14,000 just South of Asheville. The celebration is being organized and supported by a local groups like Stonewall 50 and Hendersonville PFLAG.

“We applaud everyone who worked to organize Hendersonville Pride Day and pass this proclamation in support of LGBTQ equality,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “This celebration of LGBTQ people sends a powerful message to all people in the city, county, and state: that Hendersonville is a welcoming and affirming community where all people, including LGBTQ people, should be treated with dignity and respect. LGBTQ young people in the area will read this news and know that they are accepted, supported, and loved.”

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality said the move by Hendersonville was a powerful one — and signals an important shift in the state’s smaller communities.

“The decision to recognize Hendersonville Pride Day is consistent with the increasingly vocal support we’re seeing for LGBTQ equality across North Carolina and throughout the South, including in smaller cities and towns,” Beach-Ferrara said.  “Local advocates are doing the heroic work of calling for their hometowns to affirm and support their LGBTQ neighbors, and local elected officials are listening and taking action. We’re glad to see Hendersonville set this positive example for how we can build communities where all people are free to be who they are, and we’re hopeful that other cities across the region will follow suit.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, in which New York police violently raided a Greenwich Village gay bar. When patrons and the community fought back and protested, it helped launch the modern movement for LGBTQ rights.

On Thursday New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill officially apologized for the raid.

O’Neill, who was one of many police officials who have for years called a formal apology unnecessary, said the actions of the NYPD were “wrong, plain and simple.”

“The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” he said.

O’Neill said he now sees an apology as an issue of responsibility.

“I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month, not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” O’Neill said. “I do know what happened should not have happened.”