News

North Carolina elected officials add names to effort to abolish ICE

More than 150 elected officials from across the country – mostly at the state and local levels – have so far signed on to an open letter calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Twenty five of them are from North Carolina.

The letter lays out the criticisms of the agency and the argument that it harms the communities represented by the officials who have signed on.

In the last two weeks, we have seen countless stories about babies and children being ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers so that their parents can be funneled, without due process of law, through criminal prosecutions off of which private prison companies stand to make millions of dollars.

While this escalation of policy is particularly devastating and inhumane, it is part of a larger crisis that has been building in our communities for years. The rampant and brutal enforcement tactics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) a lawless federal agency that, since its creation in 2002, has terrorized immigrants and separated families in the communities we live in and represent. As one of our newest federal agencies, ICE spends more time destroying communities than it does keeping communities safe while violating basic civil and human rights. The experiment that is ICE has failed, and must be ended as soon as possible.

As leaders and elected officials, we are committed to ensuring that our communities have the opportunity to thrive – that means everything from keeping our infrastructure up-to-date and creating good jobs to ensure that our kids get a quality education. Above all else, we are responsible for the safety of people in our communities. Our government should encourage civic and community participation and increase the quality of lives of our residents. The presence of ICE in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and homes, makes this impossible.

 

The letter supports the abolition proposal of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin).

This week a Politico/Morning Consult poll found a majority of Americans polled don’t support abolishing ICE – though there is growing support for it among Democrats.

Only 1 in 4 voters in the poll, 25 percent, believe the federal government should get rid of ICE. The majority, 54 percent, think the government should keep ICE. Twenty-one percent of voters are undecided.

But a plurality of Democratic voters do support abolishing ICE, the poll shows. Among Democrats, 43 percent say the government should get rid of ICE, while only 34 percent say it should keep ICE. Majorities of Republicans (79 percent) and independents (54 percent) want the government to keep ICE.

The open letter continues to gather support and is part of a movement that will include public events supporting ICE’s abolition.

News

New UNC Board of Governors Chairman speaks

This month the UNC Board of Governors officially got a new chairman.

Harry Smith, part of an aggressive conservative faction of members, took the reins of the board on July 1. Late last month he gave a victory lap interview to the conservative James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (formerly the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy).

In the wide ranging interview Smith touched on the protests over the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue, the controversial UNC speech policy and future plans for the board and the 17 UNC system schools.

There weren’t many probing or challenging questions from the Martin Center, which has pushed and taken credit for conservative shifts in public higher education in the state. But it’s still well worth a read.

Some highlights…

On the UNC free speech policy:

I haven’t really been involved in that at all. I’ll tell you how I view all of that: the law is the law. We don’t make it law at the board of governors. You can inject all the emotions you want into it, but the law is the law. We’re going to follow the law, and that’s no different with Silent Sam: there’s a law in place. So, we don’t get to make that decision at the board of governors, despite any emotions that want to go along with it. That’s the same with free speech, there’s a law in place—we’re going to follow the law. We’re not a legislative body; we’re a policy body. When the legislature votes and passes a law, we’re going to follow it, pretty simple. We’re not going to go trying to change laws at the board of governors, that’s not our job. The folks in Raleigh and the local officials across the state, when they make decisions at the state or federal level, we’re going to respect that process entirely.”

On the “Silent Sam” conflict, which recently extended to a billboard campaign:

I always tell everybody, don’t let the vocal minority outweigh the silent majority—and that happens a lot. It’s been no different when we have protests here [at meetings of the Board of Governors]: we have 230,000 students and we have six protestors from time to time. At the end of the day, people have their rights to have their views and opinions and that’s what makes America great—but there’s a law in place there, too. It’s a very clear law: I don’t even know how you can interpret it any differently than it’s written. So, at the end of the day, there’s a law in place that’s passed by the legislature that we’re going to respect. If you want to move Silent Sam, you don’t need to be coming to the UNC administration or the board of governors; you need to go down and talk to the legislature—because there’s a law in place. We’re going to follow the law when it comes to the board of governors. And by the way, we’ve got plenty to do without getting into the writing the law business.”

As you might imagine, the interview didn’t go over so well with those who sympathize with the movement to remove “Silent Sam.”

After the interview was published, the Martin Center took the step of adding a clarification to the story.

It read:

“Editor’s note: In the following sentence: ‘It’s been no different when we have protests here: we have 230,000 students and we have six protesters from time to time,’ Governor Smith was referring to occasional protests that have taken place at the Center for School Leadership Development, where the Board of Governors meetings take place; he was not referring to Silent Sam protesters on UNC-Chapel Hill campus. We added context to clarify this point.”

Defending Democracy, News

Voter ID amendment headed to ballot in November

The state Senate gave final approval Friday to a constitutional amendment that would require North Carolina voters to present photo ID at the polls. The amendment question will appear on the ballot in November.

The votes in the House and the Senate were along party-lines, carried by the Republican supermajority.

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers stressed evidence doesn’t support the idea that voter fraud is enough of a problem to necessitate photo ID, which would create another hurdle for those who want to vote and disenfranchise low income and minority voters who disproportionately lack a qualifying ID.

Last year the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive audit of the 2016 election. The audit did turn up problems.

Out of the nearly 4.8 million votes cast, the report found only one would probably have been prevented with a voter ID law.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) said the push for voter ID is not about the integrity of elections.

“It’s about an amendment that disproportionately impacts African-Americans, Hispanics, seniors, the disabled and young voters,” Chaudhuri said.

But Republican lawmakers said requiring ID makes sense, even if there is no evidence that elections are compromised without it.

“Even if there were no voter fraud — and I don’t believe that that is the case — most of us lock our door every night even though there’s no crime,” said Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort).

Gov. Roy Cooper does not have veto authority over constitutional amendments.

Civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the General Assembly’s passage of the amendment.

“There is scant evidence of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina,” said Sarah Gillooly, driector of Political Advocacy and Strategy for the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement. “But there is plenty of evidence that voter ID will limit access to voting for some of the state’s most marginalized voters, including people of color, rural and low-income voters, the elderly, and people with disabilities, all of whom disproportionately lack and face challenges to getting a photo ID.”

“North Carolina lawmakers have an ugly track record of enacting unnecessary and discriminatory voting restrictions,” Gillooly said. “And this time they are passing the buck to voters by asking them to permanently change our state’s constitution in a way that will place hurdles in front of law-abiding North Carolinians, silence people’s voices, and undermine a fundamental right. The General Assembly shouldn’t be given a blank check to turn back the clock on voting rights.”

Tomas Lopez, executive director of voting rights group Democracy North Carolina, agreed.

“The General Assembly says its proposal is mainstream, but only Mississippi and Missouri have voter ID requirements in their constitutions,” Lopez said in a statement. “And neither goes as far as this.”

“This amendment would compromise access to the vote and make North Carolina an extreme outlier,” Lopez said. “And while lawmakers promise to fill in the details later about what ‘photo ID’ means under this proposal, we should remember that their last ID law was thrown out in court.”

In 2013 the General Assembly passed House Bill 589, which made massive changes to voting laws in the state — among them requiring voter ID.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, finding it targeted minority voters with almost “surgical precision,” and found cures for problems that didn’t exist.

Republican lawmakers hold that, had the U.S. Supreme Court taken up the case, it would have upheld the law. They blame the court declining to do so on Cooper and N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, declining to defend the law when they were elected last year.

News

General Assembly passes two fixes to new early voting law

After hearing complaints from constituents and elections officials across the state, the General Assembly amended a hastily passed new early voting law Thursday as the legislative session draws to a close.

House Bill 335 — which gutted an unrelated bill to replace it with fixes to the early voting law passed last week — makes two important changes.

The new bill, introduced and passed in both the House and Senate Thursday, restores the possibility of a last Saturday of early voting before Election Day. It requires counties to conduct one-stop early voting from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the final Saturday before an election. It allows them to do so until 5 p.m.

That Saturday is wildly popular with those who vote early — especially Black voters.

In 2014, 103,513 voters voted on the last day and in 2016 it was 193,138. Unlike Election Day, early voting is a “one stop” period in which people can register to vote on the same day.

During the House debate,  Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) justified the removal of the popular last Saturday by saying it gave elections offices and elections workers a break to prepare for a busy Election Day.

That’s a break most offices don’t need, elections directors across the state said after the law was passed. They usually have the flexibility to set their hours and staffing levels where they need them to deal with Election Day and early voting as their county finds necessary.

The original law mandated 17 days of early voting, each lasting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which will cause serious problems for the budgets of some county boards of elections.

Presenting the new bill before the Senate Thursday, Lewis said the Republican majority had considered objections made by Democrats during fierce debates and decided to make a change.

“I will say that during the debate on expanding the early voting options in our state we did listen,” Lewis said. “The last Saturday is important — that was made clear in the debate and the subsequent research I have done.”

Last week the elections director in Hyde County told Policy Watch she would likely have to close one of the county’s two early voting sites in order to afford the changes. That site would be on Ocracoke, the small island that lies two hours and forty-five minutes away by ferry.

The bill passed Thursday solves that specific problem by allowing flexibility in the mandated early voting hours for a county if:

(1) It has permanent inhabitation of residents residing in an unincorporated area.

(2) It is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by a coastal sound.

(3) It contains either a National Wildlife Refuge or a portion of a National  Seashore.

(4) It has no bridge access to the mainland of the county and is only accessible by marine vessel.

But as some lawmakers pointed out, the Ocracoke-specific fix does nothing for other small, rural communities who will be squeezed into shutting down some early voting sites.

“We do appreciate the fact that we do get our Saturday voting back,” said Rep. Bobbie Richardson (D-Franklin). “But in rural North Carolina we’re still going to face a hardship.”

“We wish we had been able to alter those hours so our board of elections will not be taxed or we’re in a position where we can’t find someone to man our posts 12 hours a day,” Richardson said.

Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) was more blunt in his appraisal of the fix.

“What happened?” Michaux asked Lewis. “You get a guilty conscience?”

Lewis said no.

“This process works,” Lewis said. “When people stand up and advocate for what they believe in, people listen to them  — especially when they speak in a rational tone and one that folks can understand.”

Defending Democracy, News

Proposed constitutional amendments speeding forward in House, Senate

One proposed amendment to the state’s constitution has been passed by both chambers of the General Assembly. Five others are all on track to pass this week.

Governor Roy Cooper does not have the option to veto proposed constitutional amendments. Once they are passed by both houses, they will appear on the ballot in November.

Senate Bill 677 (Protect the Right to Hunt and Fish)  passed the House last night and will appear on the ballot in November. As part of debates that went well into the night Monday, Democratic House members argued no threat exists to the rights to hunt and fish. An amendment to the constitution on the issue is unnecessary, they said, and could open the state to lawsuits over its regulation of Sunday hunting. Republican House members argued that while there are no current proposals to limit hunting and fishing rights, there is no guarantee they will not materialize in the future. A constitutional amendment is necessary to protect against any potential threat, they said.

House Bill 1092 (Voter ID)  passed its third reading in the House Tuesday morning and has been sent to the Senate. After a long and caustic debate in the House Monday night (click here for a description), the measure was passed along partisan lines.

House Bill 913 (Changes to the state board of elections) passed the House Tuesday morning and has been sent to the Senate. The proposed amendment would make structural changes to the state board of elections and move the power to make appointments to the board from the governor to the legislature. The governor and Democratic lawmakers are warning that the bill’s language could give the legislature sweeping powers to appoint and change any number of state boards. During the House debate, Rep. David Lewis said that is not the bill’s intention.

House Bill 551 (Marsy’s Law/Victim’s rights) has passed in the Senate. It needs a concurrence vote in the House Tuesday. More on Monday night’s Senate debate here.

Senate Bill 75 (capping income tax at 5.5 percent) is scheduled for a House vote Tuesday. If approved, it will then need to go back to the Senate for concurrence. More on this proposed amendment here.

Senate Bill 814 (judicial vacancies) has passed the Senate is in the House Rules committee Tuesday.

The House and Senate are both set to reconvene at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said Tuesday morning that he expects Tuesday’s session to go late, but not as late as Monday night, when the House adjourned after 9 p.m.