Commentary

Keep calm and count every vote

President Donald Trump may have defied the odds and the pollsters and pulled off another stunning Electoral College squeaker in the 2020 election, but here’s the deal: at this point no one knows for sure and the only way to do so is to patiently count every vote.

At this moment, Trump is leading in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina while former Vice President Joe Biden leads in Wisconsin, Nevada and Maine. According to CNN, the overall electoral college tally stands at 224 for Biden and 213 for Trump.

Right now, however, millions of votes are still to be counted and, indeed, in some places — including North Carolina — many mailed ballots have yet to arrive at local boards of elections. Pennsylvania alone could have as many as a million votes still to count. Nevada has announced it won’t know final its results until Thursday.

All of which makes Trump plainly and irresponsibly wrong  — as he did last night — to declare victory and claim that he would somehow launch an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court to stop vote counting. Meanwhile, Joe Biden may lose the election, but he was right when he said “It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who’s won this election. That’s the decision of the American people.”

The bottom line: Thus far, the 2020 election has proceeded smoothly and with a heartening lack of problems or disturbances. All Americans — including he candidates — would do well to keep calm and patient so that it can finish that way.

News

If trends continue, North Carolina will stay mostly red

A lot of races are extremely close and there are votes still to be counted, but if trends continue as they have in recent hours, the 2020 election will have gone just about as well as Republicans could have hoped in North Carolina.

With the exception of Gov. Roy Cooper’s re-election and possible Democratic wins in a handful of Council of State races (many are too close to call and could even be headed for recounts), Republicans appear headed for a long list of victories in statewide races, including the presidency, U.S. Senate, and several judicial races. Reports also indicate Republicans will retain control of the General Assembly and avoid any upsets in congressional contests as well.

The wins came despite a measurable improvement in the Democratic performance at the top of the ticket — where Joe Biden appeared to outperform Hillary Clinton and Cooper’s margin grew significantly over 2016.

Ultimately, however, it does not appear to have been enough to produce the kind of “blue wave” that Democrats had been hoping for and that polls had been hinting was a possibility.

NC Policy Watch will have comprehensive team coverage of North Carolina election results tomorrow morning.

Click here to check out up-to-the-minute results from the State Board of Elections.

Defending Democracy, News

Civil rights group fielding thousands of calls on its national “election protection hotline” (Updated)

In a 1:00 p.m. briefing, Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law detailed several examples of Election Day problems reported to the group thus far from voting sites around the country.

Some of the incidents, Clarke said, were likely to lead to litigation later today. Among the issues reported:

  • precincts in Georgia (particularly in Spalding and Morgan Counties) in which voting machines were not properly “calibrated” — thus making them unusable — and paper ballots used as a back-up were in short supply;
  • at least two polling sites in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that opened several hours late;
  • reports of potential voter intimidation at Orange County, Florida in which a group of trucks was parked in front of a polling site with the apparent intent of discouraging voters from entering;
  • another Florida incident in which two men claiming to be law enforcement deputies had placed themselves outside a polling site and were alleged to be intimidating voters;
  • robocalls in multiple locations targeting voters with false information telling them to “stay safe and stay home”;
  • complaints of malfunctioning voting machines in Louisiana that were allegedly defaulting a voter’s presidential selection to the first name on the ballot;
  • reports of a private Facebook page in Green Bay, Wisconsin spreading the false rumor that the local mayor had “rigged” the election; and
  • reports of significant delays at several precincts in Franklin County, Ohio.

Overall, Clarke said the more than 100,000 calls received thus far during this fall’s election has been very high and represented more than the group fielded throughout the calendar years 2016.


Complaints were received about this individual placing himself near the entrance to a polling place in Williamsport, PA. Image: Twitter account of Kristen Clarke

5:00 p.m. UPDATE:

In a late afternoon media call, Clarke provided a new series of updates on complaints received from around the country.

As a general matter, Clarke said she was encouraged by the fact that reports of troubles have been “isolated and sporadic.” Among the reports received this afternoon:

  • the intimidating presence of a man dressed in military-like garb in Williamsport, Pennsylvania;
  • voters in York County, Pennsylvania being denied language assistance to which they are entitled;
  • an intimidating presence of law enforcement officers (including some on horseback) at multiple sites in Denver, Colorado;
  • word from Suffolk County, New York that what appeared to be the effigy of the corpse of one of the presidential candidates was on display near a polling site;
  • some Missouri voters being quizzed by officials about their COVID-19 status;
  • voters at the Philadelphia sites that opened several hours late being given provisional ballots to vote without adequate explanation that would have allowed them to fill them in completely.

Clarke also reported progress on resolving problems identified earlier in the day in Georgia where voting equipment had malfunctioned.

She had no additional word on the situation in Alamance County, where according to news reports, a follow-up march to the event on Saturday that ended in police violence is currently underway.

To contact the Election Protection Hotline, dial 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683). Click here for foreign language numbers and more information.

This is a developing story that will be updated as events warrant.

Courts & the Law, News

Meanwhile, in other news…state Court of Appeals delivers a big win to NC consumers

In a pair of unanimous decisions, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued rulings today that constitute major victories for thousands of consumers targeted by the controversial “debt buyer” industry.

A 2014 report from the Center for Responsible Lending provided this basic description of the industry and how it works:

Debt buyers are specialized companies that purchase charged-off or other delinquent debt from credit card companies, banks, and other creditors for pennies-on-the-dollar. These companies then attempt to collect the debts themselves or through collection agencies or law firms. Some debt buyers also repackage and sell the debt they have bought to another debt buyer, either almost immediately or after already having attempted to collect the debt. Credit card debt is the most prevalent type of defaulted debt purchased by debt buyers. Debt buyers also purchase student loans, medical debt, utility and phone bills, tax liens, car loans, and mortgage and auto deficiencies.

At issue in the cases of Pounds v. Portfolio Recovery Associates and Spector v. Portfolio Recovery Associates was whether Portfolio — the nation’s largest debt buyer — could force the plaintiffs (one group of which had filed its lawsuit as representatives of a class including thousands of similarly situated consumers) to arbitrate each individual claim they had brought alleging violations of consumer protection laws on a case-by-case basis.

Lawyers for Portfolio argued that the firm had acquired a right to compel arbitration when it bought the old debt, which had originally included arbitration clauses between the parties. In rejecting that argument, however, the Court of Appeals found that the bill of sale between the parties when the debt was sold did not specify that the arbitration rights were part of the deal.

The rulings will now allow plaintiffs to move ahead with their lawsuits — one of which was brought on behalf of a class more than 20,000 consumers.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs lifted up the wins as establishing an important new precedent and sending a positive signal to consumer rights attorneys across the state and nation in an era in which a series of previous court rulings have made mandatory arbitration clauses (a phenomenon that effectively bars consumers from winning meaningful relief) difficult to defeat.

Note: The plaintiffs’ attorneys include employees of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch).

Commentary

Veteran attorney: Now is the time for NC to end tuition discrimination against immigrants

In case you missed it last week, be sure to check out a powerful essay authored by veteran North Carolina attorney Hampton Dellinger for WRAL.com. As Dellinger explains, it’s long past time for North Carolina to make higher education accessible and affordable to young, undocumented immigrants by allowing young people who’ve grown up here and graduated from North Carolina high schools to pay in-state tuition rates. Current law requires them to pay exorbitant, out-of-state rates.

Dellinger cites three main reasons.

Number One is the state constitution. As he explains:

…as a matter of law, the robust education rights enshrined in the North Carolina Constitution are not limited to citizens but extend to “people” and “all students.”

While other rights, particularly those relating to office holding and voting, are reserved to citizens, the vital education guarantees go uncircumscribed and apply to all who call North Carolina home.

Number Two is the obvious benefit to our society that such a change would bring about:

Immigrants not only culturally enrich our society, they also literally enrich North Carolina’s economy through labor force contributions and paid taxes.

He also notes that allowing immigrants to attend our colleges and universities at in-state rates will help produce large numbers of new and skilled workers and help address the problem of declining enrollment on some college campuses — a problem worsened of late by the pandemic.

Number Three is the matter of simple human decency and morality. After noting how immigrants have been wrongfully scapegoated by President Trump and his allies, Dellinger puts it this way:

And their community contributions come with nearly none of the benefit returns afforded citizens despite undocumented immigrants paying sales, payroll, and other taxes. In spite of the hardships placed on their parents, many childhood arrivals succeed in North Carolina schools aided in no small measure by supportive family, friends, teachers, and school staff. For the State of North Carolina to then put an often insurmountable obstacle in the path of these kids, and just at the moment all their hard work has paid off in the form of a high school diploma, is – in a word – heartless.

Let’s hope the 2021 General Assembly heeds Dellinger’s humane and commonsense recommendation as quickly as possible.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.