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EARLYBy all accounts, the battle to keep an early voting site open at Appalachian State University has been a success.   Early voting there continues to be strong, with 2155 votes cast as of yesterday.

But other small victories in the war against voting rights have occurred elsewhere throughout the state.

Take Lincoln County, for example.

The board of elections for this mid-size county (population 79,000) near Charlotte unanimously approved an early voting plan that initially included three sites spread across the county, but reduced total hours offered from a required 320 to 219.

Consistent with its response to the many counties seeking a reduction of early voting hours, the State Board of Elections sent the plan back with the proviso that a reduction required additional hours added  outside of the regular work day to accommodate voters.

For Lincoln County, that meant adding hours to its site in Lincolnton, the county seat (state law requires satellite locations outside of the county board offices to have the same hours).

That didn’t sit well with the Lincoln County board.

“The majority of the board felt that this was a blatant attempt to impose a highly partisan plan,” Charles Newman, one of two Republicans on the three-person board, told the Lincoln Times in this article. “In order to comply with that plan, the only way we could have done it would be to extend the hours at the Lincolnton location, which would have been favorable to the Democratic Party.”

Coincidentally, Lincolnton has 13 percent of the county’s total population but 31 percent of its black voting age population.

(Source: Southern Coalition for Social Justice)

(Source: Southern Coalition for Social Justice)

So what did the county board do?

Instead of adding hours in Lincolnton, the board members cut them — from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. — extended hours at the satellite locations, and sent the state board a nasty letter, in which they called state board member Maja Kricker “inept.”

As quoted in the Lincoln Times, the letter added this:

“The attached plan is submitted with some regret because in our county BOE’s opinion, the initial plan was submitted and subsequently rejected due to the self-indulgent view of (State Board of Elections member) Maja Kricker, (who believes) she knows more about what is best for Lincoln County than we, the County BOE members, who work, live and vote in Lincoln County.”

(In a phone interview, Kricker told the Lincoln Times that her guidelines were not politically motivated, but rather a way to increase voter turnout in Lincoln County by offering hours outside of the traditional workday.)

And though the state board took issue with the “disrespectful” response from Lincoln County, it approved the new plan with reduced hours by a vote of 4-1 in late August.

That left Lincolnton voters — unable to vote early there because of work commitments — hanging dry.

With early voting on the horizon, several of them filed a lawsuit on October 6 in Wake County Superior Court — seeking an order requiring the county and state boards to adopt a new plan.

And on October 14, 2014, the county board finally accommodated them with a new plan – now in effect — having hours from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays in Lincolnton (and on one Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.).

(It bears noting that despite the improved plan, Lincoln County is one of only two counties in the state that has no early voting site open past 5 p.m.  The other is Northampton.)

“We are pleased that in response to our lawsuit, the Lincoln County Board of Elections adopted a revised early-voting schedule that provides for the Lincolnton one-stop site to remain open during regular business hours throughout the early-voting period,” John O’Hale, an attorney representing the voters, said. “The voters who brought this lawsuit all have demanding work schedules—whether as a teacher, an emergency-services director, or a coach.  The Board’s revised schedule is a much-improved arrangement for all of the voters of Lincoln County, but especially for hard-working voters who need to use the Lincolnton one-stop site due to their jobs or family schedules.”

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As we reported yesterday, the Justice for All NC PAC is poised for a last-minute ad blitz supporting Republican-endorsed candidates for the state Supreme Court, after receiving a fresh infusion of $400,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee this past week.

Now it appears that at least of some of that money is going toward a television ad from the Louisiana-based Innovative Advertising – which goes by the tagline “People Who Think” — supporting conservative Winston-Salem lawyer Mike Robinson, who’s challenging incumbent Justice Cheri Beasley.

The people who think didn’t have to dig too deep into the innovation barrel for this one, though.

Instead they’ve recycled the Paul Newby banjo ad (watch above) — also their creation — this time replacing the banjo with a guitar and the catch phrase from “Newby Tough but Fair” to “I Like Mike.”

Read more here from Chris Kromm at Facing South, and watch the Robinson video below.

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(Source: nccourts.org)

Three candidates for the state Supreme Court — current Justices Robin Hudson and Cheri Beasley and Court of Appeals Judge Sam J. Ervin, IV will be holding news conferences today in three cities to discuss the latest influx of “dark money” from outside independent groups hoping to steer the race toward conservative-backed candidates.

As happened during the May primary, outside groups are pouring last-minute money into the coffers of Justice for All NC and its feeder group North Carolina Judicial Coalition for television ads to run throughout the state over these last few days of the election.

On October 24, the Republican State Leadership Committee sent Justice for All $400,000.

And on October 22, the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children gave Justice for All an additional $25,000 (totaling $75,000 so far for this election). That group has a vested interest in the outcome of the school voucher case, now pending before the high court.

(There is a lag time between the date of contributions, the date of filing a notice about them with the state elections board and the date that notice appears on the board’s website.)

Justice for All has already made media buys to run television ads in the Wilmington and Greensboro/High Point areas this week through Nov. 4.  The substance of those ads could not be confirmed as of this post.

The usual suspects are starting to load up the Judicial Coalition too — with tobacco company Reynolds American giving that group $50,000 and the insurance company Medical Mutual, $15,000 this past week.

If the strategy holds true to what happened in the 2012 Supreme Court race between Justice Paul Newby and Judge Ervin, the Judicial Coalition will pass that money on to Justice for All for media buys and other expenses.

As has now been widely reported, Justice for All spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an attack ad against Justice Hudson in the days leading up to the May primary, in which Hudson faced off against Republican challengers Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran.

Political operatives and many judges — here and nationally — called that ad one of the worst attack ads ever.

Here’s New York Times columnist Joe Nocera just yesterday:

One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson.

Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term.

This ad in North Carolina, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics.

And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.

Not surprisingly, the truth was a bit different. In 2010, the State Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether an electronic-monitoring law could apply to those who had been convicted before it passed. Hudson, in a dissent, wrote that the law could not be applied retroactively.

This year’s Supreme Court races are critically important, not only because four of the seven seats are up for grabs but also because of what the outcome will mean for the direction the court will take for many years to come.

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Same-sex marriages may be happening in North Carolina — thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to review the Fourth Circuit’s Bostic decision, allowing such marriages — but one day soon that might change, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest suggests in a recent blog post on his website.

In the article (written under his signature but posted by Kami Mueller), the lieutenant governor defends his position that the states, and not the federal government, have the sole constitutional authority to make decisions about marriage.

A majority of justices have said as much, Forest adds, pointing to language from Justice Anthony Kennedy in the high court’s 2013 U.S. v. Windsor decision and agreed to by the court’s liberal justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan):

The recognition of civil marriages is central to state domestic relations law applicable to its residents and citizens. The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the “[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.”

Consistent with this allocation of authority, the Federal Government, through our history, has deferred to state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations. . ..

With those words, Forest offers hope that the high court may yet take up a marriage equality case and reverse the tide of same-sex marriages now sweeping the country.

But Forest apparently overlooked Kennedy’s words immediately preceding the quote above, in which the justice points out as a given that state marriage laws must respect a person’s constitutional rights:

In order to assess the validity of that intervention it is necessary to discuss the extent of the state power and authority over marriage as a matter of history and tradition. State laws defining and regulating marriage, of course, must respect the constitutional rights of persons, see, e.g., Loving v. Virginia . . . 
And the lieutenant governor may have also forgotten this:  Only four justices need to agree to take a case. If those on the court’s conservative wing (Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) were intent on taking up the marriage equality issue and perhaps tipping their hats to states’ rights, they could have done so in Bostic.
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(Source: whitehouse.gov)

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

According to a Judiciary Committee spokesperson, both North Carolina senators have submitted “blue slips” for Loretta Copeland Biggs, nominated in September by President Obama to serve as a U.S. District Judge in the state’s Middle District.

That signal of support by home state senators allows the nominee to proceed to a Judiciary Committee hearing and move a step closer to confirmation, which follows from a full floor vote.

If confirmed by the Senate, Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

“We have two highly qualified, outstanding African-American women who have been nominated to be federal judges, and I think it’s time we confirm them and get them on the bench,”  Sen. Kay Hagan said shortly after the Biggs nomination — referring also to Jennifer Prescod May-Parker, a pending nominee for the country’s oldest federal District Court vacancy out in eastern North Carolina.

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

Sen. Richard Burr inexplicably continues to withhold a “blue slip” for May-Parker, though — despite his strong statements on the Senate floor disapproving of obstructionism in the judicial nomination process.

Click here for more on the tortured history of North Carolina’s federal judicial vacancies and the lack of diversity of those who have served.