Commentary, Defending Democracy

One of NC’s most experienced and respected election law experts blasts “cynical” GOP voter ID scheme

If you missed it this morning, be sure to check out veteran election law expert Gerry Cohen’s essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he dissects the proposal from Republicans at the North Carolina General Assembly to alter the state constitution with a voter ID amendment. As Cohen makes clear, the proposal is rife with a host of serious problems.

This is from “The new voter photo ID bill is vague and leaves lots of questions”:

“The ballot question says, ‘Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law’ This language appears to not allow exceptions for those without ID or those who have lost them, as the 2013 law did. Will it be a ‘hard ID’ like that struck down in federal court, or a ‘soft ID’ like the 2013 House version that allowed student ID, public assistance ID or employer ID? Will there be a tedious provisional ballot process?

The referendum voter won’t know the actual proposal. Senate staffer Brent Woodcox tweeted, ‘Very few would read the details of the bill to make their decision on the amendment. Unless it passes, there will be no need for implementing language.’ How cynical. Is the amendment just a blank check, as well as a sound bite to trap candidates? Is the actual reason to amend the constitution to end review on state constitutional grounds? Republicans control the legislature; the N.C. Supreme Court is now 4-3 Democratic and will remain Democratic next year.”

After reciting the arguments of proponents that ID requirements are no big deal and that one supposedly already needs an iD for all sorts of routine events of life, Cohen responds like this:

“A large segment of society, especially the poor, don’t fly and don’t have checking accounts. Research has shown that the poorer the voter, the younger the voter, or if the voter is black, the less likely there is an acceptable photo ID. Also, why are we writing into the constitution 2018 technology, disallowing other methods that may develop?

I’ve seen attacks that people without ID could easily get one. For many, this isn’t true. Those of us in politics are privileged to be in the top 95 percent of society. We often don’t see the struggle of citizens who are un-banked, poor, homeless, mentally ill, with no car, or living far away from DMV in rural areas. The lesser among us deserve respect and honor, not baseless fraud allegations or artificial and unnecessary barriers to voting. This bill will disenfranchise voters and is poorly thought through. No one is breaking into the voting booth.

Most voter fraud is in mail-in ballots, not touched by this bill. The other major fraud in 2016 was largely baseless post-election fraud accusations made by representatives of a campaign, organized by Virginia lawyers who duped volunteers into signing false allegations.

Over 400,000 persons have had licenses suspended in the last three years in North Carolina for failing to pay court fees (which have greatly increased). How would this affect voter ID?”

The bottom line: Cohen is right that the amendment would be a disaster and must be stopped.

Commentary

N.C. State’s hyped voucher study tells us nothing about N.C.’s voucher program

Normally, when somebody hears about an evaluation of an education program, they reasonably assume the evaluation will tell them whether the program is working or not. When reading an evaluation report, policymakers, parents, and educators hope the evaluation will tell them if the program is helping the participating students. These seem like obvious, uncontroversial points.

On Monday, June 4, researchers from N.C. State released “an evaluation of the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program,” North Carolina’s largest private school voucher program. The authors enthusiastically publicized and distributed the report, making sure to provide advance copies to media organizations and pro-voucher advocacy groups. The report has been highlighted by all of the state’s major media outlets, including being the first story greeting visitors to EdNC.org all of last week.

But there’s a problem: the report fails to tell us whether the Opportunity Scholarship program is working. The researchers’ efforts tell us nothing about whether accepting an Opportunity Scholarship will help or harm a student’s education.

The report’s primary flaw is that it has no external validity. That is, the students tested as part of this study are different from the average Opportunity Scholarship student. As a result, there’s no reason to think that the untested Opportunity Scholarship students would similarly outperform their public school counterparts. As the Charlotte Observer‘s Ann Doss-Helms noted, just over half of the voucher schools that participated in the study were Catholic, while only 10 percent of all schools receiving Opportunity Scholarship vouchers are Catholic. Additionally, the report only looked at students who were recruited and volunteered to take a test. These students are different from the average voucher student.

Because of these differences, you can’t use the report to make claims about the average voucher student or the impact of the voucher program overall. The effects highlighted by the researchers only apply to the 89 Opportunity Scholarship students (in the researcher’s preferred comparison) who volunteered to be tested, representing just 1.6 percent of the 5,624 Opportunity Scholarship students in the 16-17 school year. The report tells us nothing about the other 98.4 percent of Opportunity Scholarship students

Unfortunately, one would have to carefully read the report to reach these conclusions. The press release fails to adequately warn readers of the paper’s limitations. One would have to dig into the ninth paragraph of the Charlotte Observer’s story on the report to find a clear description of the report’s shortcomings: Read more

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump tax law enriches him, harms people of color

In case you missed it, a May report from the progressive Roosevelt Institute skewered the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans’ tax code rewrite introduced and approved in late 2017 by Congress and President Trump.

Now, head over to WRAL for a weekend editorial from former Raleigh City Council member Brad Thompson. Thompson examines exactly who wins and who loses in one of Trump’s few legislative victories since his inauguration.

From WRAL:

President Donald Trump’s new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, supported by U.S. Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., promised a huge tax cut for the middle-class, job growth, and trickle-down heaven. That was all hype.

Trump said the bill “would cost him a fortune.” The truth is he personally benefited enormously, if only from the 2.6 percent decrease in the highest tax bracket.

This new law significantly changed the tax code. It did not improve the parts of the code that were rigged against people of color. In some ways, it made the problem worse.  This law was intended to enrich the president, Congressman Holding and wealthy donors.  It did just that.

The tax cuts on corporations are much larger than for individuals. In addition, the cuts for corporations are permanent. The cuts for individuals are temporary and expire.  There is no increased job growth as a result of these corporate tax cuts.  The trickle down myth is passed down from one generation of the wealthy to the next, but it has never been true.

“Hidden Rules of Race,” a new report from the Roosevelt Institute by Darrick Hamilton and Michael Linden, brings to light four important ways in which the new tax law will negatively impact people of color. The authors conclude, “in addition to disadvantaging low- and middle-income people in favor of the rich and powerful few, the Trump tax law, specifically preys upon people of color.”

  • The Trump tax law overwhelmingly benefits millionaires and billionaires, not low-income or middle-class Americans as Trump and Holding promised. As the “Income Gap” (which the Pew Research Center calls a “Grand Canyon-sized void)” grows, the wealthy get more of the tax cuts.
  • The Trump tax law primarily benefits already wealthy people who already had access to the educational, systemic, and human resources necessary to accumulate wealth. The “Racial Wealth Gap” is the reality that the average wealth for families is much higher than for African-Americans. Our dreadful history of discrimination in housing, lending, and employment has legally obstructed the ability of African Americans to accumulate wealth over generations.
  • The Trump tax law is expected to encourage state and local governments to add fees and fines to make up lost revenue. As Peter Edelman exposes in his new book, “Not a Crime To Be Poor,” court costs, bail, fines, and incarceration for non-violent behavior all act to keep people of color in an endless loop of economic distress where great harm is done to families and communities.17
  • The Trump tax law is estimated to cost $1.9 trillion in lost revenue in the next 10 years. We have already seen that this Congress is willing to cut medical, health, and social services to offset some of their tax cuts. This is not sustainable.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

If he only knew.

Commentary

Editorial: Voter ID still a lousy idea

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the latest editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal regarding the General Assembly’s new voter ID scheme. This is from “Voter ID is still a bad idea”:

Legislative leaders say that the purpose of passing the bill is to restore confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud.

Of course, one of the main reasons voters lack confidence in elections is because Republicans keep telling them that voter fraud is a big problem in the state.

But the claim has been refuted time and time again, including by Republican authorities like Kim Strach, the executive director of the State Board of Elections. It does occur from time to time, but no evidence has ever been produced to prove that the problem is widespread or significant.

In 2013, Republicans tried to push through a voter-ID bill, only to have the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determine that the bill was intended to suppress voting by African Americans, who generally go heavily for Democrats, and that it targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

“The State has failed to produce one individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina,” the Fourth Circuit Court said in its ruling.

Republicans spent more than $9 million of taxpayer money trying to push the bill through the courts, only to finally have the U.S. Supreme Court tell them to knock it off.

Republicans were so desperate to push their conspiracy theory in the last election that they accused voters in 52 counties of double voting and other misdeeds. Four of those voters are currently suing their accusers for slander and libel.

We do have voting problems in this state — voter suppression and Russian attempts to interfere in our elections. The state legislature has done nothing about those. Instead, they’re following their partisan pattern of trying to retain power at the expense of fair elections. It’s past time to let this zombie die.

Amen to that.

Commentary, Environment

Environmental advocates: We’ve had it up to here (literally) with polluting polystyrene

In case you missed it earlier this week amidst all the hubbub at the General Assembly, the good people at the advocacy group Environment North Carolina launched an important new anti-pollution campaign against one of the most ubiquitous and destructive byproducts of our modern, supersized, fast food-obsessed lives. This is from the announcement that accompanied the group’s Wednesday press event near a polluted Durham creek:

Some of the plastic waste recently cleaned from Durham’s Ellerbee Creek

Environment North Carolina’s New Campaign: Wildlife Over Waste
The Campaign Aims to Bolster Local Efforts and Ban Harmful Plastic Pollution, Starting With Polystyrene.

Plastic pollution is killing our wildlife. That’s why Environment North Carolina is announcing a new campaign and working with local partners to ban harmful types of single-use plastic food containers in North Carolina.

Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is one of the worst and most common types of plastic. Americans throw out 70 million polystyrene foam cups every day, and that doesn’t include bowls and takeout containers. Roughly a third of that discarded plastic ends up in our waterways: rivers, lakes, and especially oceans.

“Polystyrene foam is material we use only once for our food and drink, yet it lasts in our environment forever, causing harm to people, drinking water, and ecosystems. And many cities’ trash is trucked to lower-income counties where landfills are filling fast. Styrofoam is a pollutant to North Carolina, and this state-wide ban represents a first step to breaking our ‘take-and-trash’ addiction and moving toward a sustainable reuse economy. ” said Crystal Dreisbach, Co-CEO of GreenToGo, and Executive Director of Don’t Waste Durham. Read more