Commentary, Defending Democracy

As NC counties continue counting every vote, we make sure every vote counts

The late voting rights champion Rep. John Lewis wrote in the days leading up to his death, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.”

For North Carolina election officials in all 100 counties, the culminating act of 2020 takes place during Friday’s little-known (and often-misspelled) “Day of Canvass,” at which local boards of elections take a final count of all properly cast ballots to certify election results for their county.

For those who’ve spent the last week criticizing these same election officials and questioning why our process takes so long when the U.S. Presidential race is over, the answer is simple: 

This is the way it works.

It’s not just that the U.S. Supreme Court doubled down on giving North Carolina until Nov. 12 to count absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3. By law, in every presidential election, all 100 N.C. counties certify election results a full 10 days after Election Day, including outstanding military or overseas, statewide absentee, and provisional ballots.

In 2020, all eyes could be on these typically unceremonious county canvass meetings, including final counts of potentially over 100,000 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots. While only some of these ballots will ultimately be eligible for the tally, even a majority of these remaining votes could decide everything from important local and legislative races, to the balance of state supreme court, to which presidential candidate ultimately receives North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes and where our state stands in an ever-evolving electoral map.

After a week of counting ballots and pre-canvass county board of elections meetings, Friday the 13th’s Day of Canvass is where that all happens, ahead of the state board’s own canvass meeting later this month.

But it’s far from the only act of democracy happening this week.

For the hundreds of volunteer canvass monitors recruited, trained, and deployed to these meetings by organizations like Democracy North Carolina, the truly democratic act isn’t simply to make sure counties count votes, but that every eligible vote is counted. At week’s end, these volunteers will be attending canvass in most N.C. counties — many after learning of the process for the first time — to observe these events, document all that happens, help restore trust in the process, and assist voters along the way.

These volunteers will come from all walks of life, all parts of the state, all organizational affiliations, to do the unglamorous and oft-ignored post-election work of turning historic turnout into honest elections.

Together, these post-election vote protectors will join the thousands that stood at polls to assist voters during the 2020 cycle, as well as the tens of thousands of N.C. poll workers and election staffers who hosted this historic election and have been tirelessly curing and counting hard-fought votes ever since.

In his posthumous essay, Rep. Lewis closed by asking us all to “stand up for what you truly believe.”

For those leading and participating in this week’s final vote counts, that means finishing the job we started.

For that, we should all be grateful.

To learn more about the “Day of Canvass” and the role of a canvass monitor, visit demnc.co/canvass.

Sailor Jones is campaigns director at Democracy North Carolina (democracync.org).

Commentary, News

Former NC pol Tony Tata could soon be top Pentagon policy official after all

It may not last for long, but it appears the never-ending chaos and dysfunction in the Trump administration will soon lead to former North Carolina Transportation Secretary and Wake County school superintendent Tony Tata serving as the top policy official in the U.S. Defense Department.

As you will recall, Tata, who is a retired Army Brigadier General as well as a novelist and one-time Fox News commentator, was tapped for the position of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy by President Trump earlier this year, but saw the nomination go up in flames in the Republican-controlled Senate after multiple objections were raised from both sides of the aisle to many of Tata’s outrageous past statements — including calling President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader,” and saying that Islam “the most oppressive violent religion that I know of.”

A month or so later, however, Trump simply bypassed the Senate and appointed Tata to be the assistant to the undersecretary — a position that does not require confirmation by the Senate.

Now, today, with a new series of departures and firings taking place at the Pentagon as Trump’s post-election tantrum continues to play out, it appears that Tata may be left in charge — at least for the next couple months. This from Politico:

The departure of James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy, potentially paves the way for Anthony Tata, President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for the top policy job who was pulled from consideration due to Islamophobic tweets, to take over the policy shop. Anderson’s resignation also comes one day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired by Trump, also over policy disagreements….

Tata, who has been performing the duties of the deputy position since the summer, will now likely slide into the No. 1 role. After the White House announced his nomination this year, Tata came under fire for tweets calling Obama a “terrorist leader” and for referring to Islam as the “most oppressive violent religion I know of,” among other controversial statements.

Tata, who was a frequent Fox News guest, also derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Twitter, and shared an article that promoted a conspiracy theory that Obama was a “Manchurian candidate.” Tata later said he regretted the now-deleted tweets.

(As an ironic side note, there’s been no word of opposition from North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis to the appointment even though Tata resigned from the military after an Army inquiry concluded that he had been involved in at least two adulterous affairs — the very same alleged offense Tillis used to bludgeon Cal Cunningham in the recently concluded U.S. Senate campaign.)

There’s no indication at this point whether Tata will have the time or capacity to make a real difference in U.S. defense policy during the 71 days that remain in Trump’s presidential term. One hopes that his chief duty in the coming days will involve preparing for a new administration and turning out the lights.

Of course, if his record of service in North Carolina is any indication, he’s unlikely to have trouble filling the days. During his time as North Carolina Secretary of Transportation, Tata still found time to pen his dime store novels and, at one point, to be absent from the state during a paralyzing winter storm to appear at a book promotion event in Chicago.

Come to think of it, such a book tour might be the best possible thing that could happen to the Pentagon at this point.

Commentary

Wilmington small business owner: What the Affordable Care Act means to my company

[Editor’s note: Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in the case of California v. Texas. The following article by Wilmington small business owner Caroline Fisher explores some of the disastrous impacts that the law’s demise would likely bring about for her company and others like it.]

I’m one of the more than 1.4 million small business owners in America who buys health coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace. The health insurance premium subsidies from the ACA played an integral part in my decision in 2014 to take the risk to start a new business. My company, Swahili Coast, is a small brand operating on fair trade principles. We’ve been able to employee a small staff here and overseas in part because we could access affordable healthcare for ourselves and our employees.

It is essential for the economic health of North Carolina that we support small businesses as the economic drivers of our state, and support policies that remove barriers to small business ownership. If we want to support entrepreneurship, innovation, and the “American Dream,” we must protect the Affordable Care Act. With the U. S. Supreme Court set to hear arguments to repeal the ACA today, we may soon see lack of access to affordable healthcare again emerge as a major roadblock to starting a small business.

Forty-four percent all jobs in North Carolina come from small businesses, and the ACA is vital to the health and viability of many of them in North Carolina, including mine. We talk a lot about how important the ACA is to promote individual access to healthcare, and that is absolutely true, but it also makes small business development and innovation more possible by eliminating a huge barrier to small business ownership: the cost of healthcare.

When we started our business in 2014, the ACA premium subsidies were a big part of our risk calculation. When we first started, we were like a lot of young entrepreneurs working hard on our dream. We worked on our business during the day and waited tables at night to make ends meet. At the time, our premium subsidy brought down the monthly cost of our premium to $0, rather than the $400 per month it would have been without the ACA.

As time has gone on, our business has grown, and each year our premium subsidies have decreased as we were able to pay more for our health coverage. The ACA was critical again this year, however, as our business suffered the effects of COVID-19 shutdowns and the recession, allowing us to again qualify for some premium subsidies, making it much easier for our family to get through this time of extreme uncertainty.

I also know firsthand the importance of having access to affordable health care. Prior to the ACA, there were several times in my life that I was uninsured, and I am so grateful and lucky that nothing happened to me during those periods. But two years ago I started experiencing health problems that required a battery of tests. Thanks to the health coverage I purchased through the ACA, I’ve been able to work with great doctors to address these issues. This means that I, like an estimated 66 million Americans, now have a preexisting condition that would make me uninsurable on the open market without the regulations of the Affordable Care Act.

Repealing the ACA doesn’t make economic sense, and it doesn’t make moral sense. To get rid of affordable health care for millions of small business owners would further cripple our economy at a time when small businesses are working hard to stay afloat and we are all doing our best to stay healthy in the face of a global pandemic.

Newly appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett has repeatedly voiced opposition to the ACA, despite what she said in her confirmation hearings.

Let’s hope she undergoes a change of heart as repealing the ACA, particularly during an ongoing global pandemic, would be a cruel step backwards for our people.

Commentary

Editorial: How winning the battle in NC may have cost Trump reelection

Screenshot from a speech Trump delivered in Greenville during the campaign.

As I noted in a commentary last Thursday, it’s hard not to credit a lot of the surprising success that President Trump and Republicans enjoyed in North Carolina last week to the relentless ground game they pursued (including numerous big in-person rallies) in the final weeks leading up to Nov. 3:

While Democratic diehards and other never-Trumpers flocked to cast ballots during early voting and voting-by-mail, there simply weren’t any high energy events to rouse many less passionate would-be Democratic voters – the kind of people normally targeted by big, last minute rallies and door-to-door canvassing.

From Biden on down, Democratic leaders and volunteers weren’t – quite responsibly – willing to expose themselves or the broader community to such risks.

Add to this the general – if unwarranted – skepticism brought by Trump and his base to the pandemic itself, and the explanation for the large, in-person Election Day turnout by Republican voters we saw becomes that much more obvious.

This morning, a provocative editorial at WRAL.com picks up on that argument by posing the question “Did Trump sacrifice Pennsylvania and Georgia to win in N.C.?” As the editorial explains:

From late August to the day before the election, the incumbent Republican president made 10 campaign trips to the state. His Vice President Mike Pence added another six visits. That doesn’t include the many campaign season visits by Trump’s children and cabinet members.

Over the same period, the President made just three trips to Georgia – Atlanta in late September, Macon in mid-October and Rome on Nov. 1. Trump’s campaign clearly assumed Georgia win was in the cards.

Trump did make eight visits to Pennsylvania. But, by his own admission, he didn’t think they were necessary. Pennsylvania, always viewed as a critical swing state, was in the bag for Trump. Here’s what he told a crowd in Erie at an Oct. 20 rally: “Before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I mean, I have to be honest. There was no way I was coming. I didn’t have to. I would’ve called you and said: ‘Hey, Erie. You know, if you have a chance, get out and vote.’ We had this thing won.”

After explaining the ways in which the Trump team’s constant presence in the state clearly helped boost GOP candidates up and down the ballot, the editorial concludes this way:

To the degree that Republicans, up and down the ballot in North Carolina exceeded expectations, they should thank Trump.

Will Donald Trump say North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes were worth the cost of 36 other electoral votes (20 in Pennsylvania and 16 in Georgia)? Will it be worth that sacrifice to end up keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands? Was it worth it to add more Republicans to the state’s highest courts?

Our bet is Donald Trump’s answer would be distinctly different from that of the state’s Republicans.

In short, it’s the editorial’s conclusion that North Carolina’s loss was the nation’s gain. Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, COVID-19

Two hopeful signs on Job Number One for the Biden team

There is no single, near-term issue of greater importance right now than the coronavirus pandemic. If the United States can’t get a handle on the issue that Donald Trump so horrifically botched — a failure that almost assuredly cost him reelection — then just about everything else is in jeopardy.

Fortunately, the morning headlines have greeted us with two encouraging pieces of news on this front. This is from a story on CNN:

Pfizer says early analysis shows its Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective

Drugmaker Pfizer said Monday an early look at data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective — a much better than expected efficacy if the trend continues.

The so-called interim analysis looked at the first 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the more than 43,000 volunteers who got either two doses of the vaccine or a placebo. It found that fewer than 10% of infections were in participants who had been given the vaccine. More than 90% of the cases were in people who had been given a placebo.

Pfizer said that the vaccine provided protection seven days after the second dose and 28 days after the initial dose of the vaccine. The final goal of the trial is to reach 164 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

In a news release, the pharmaceutical giant said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration soon after volunteers have been monitored for two months after getting their second dose of vaccine, as requested by the FDA.

Click here to read the full story.

And this is from a story in the Washington Post:

President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the members of his coronavirus task force, a group made up entirely of doctors and health experts, signaling his intent to seek a science-based approach to bring the raging pandemic under control.

Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.

Biden will inherit the worst crisis since the Great Depression, made more difficult by President Trump’s refusal to concede the election and commit to a peaceful transition of power. The Trump administration has not put forward national plans for testing, contact tracing and resolving shortages in personal protective equipment that hospitals and health-care facilities are experiencing again as the nation enters its third surge of the virus.

Click here to read the full story.

In an ideal world, of course, President Trump would be putting the good of the nation ahead of his ego and cooperating in this latter effort (and others). Unfortunately, at this point it looks like the Biden team will simply have to establish a competent government-in-waiting on its own. Thankfully, the early signs indicate it has the wherewithal to pull it off.