Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

New Mecklenburg sheriff ends 287(g) immigration program

There’s a new sheriff in Mecklenburg County, and one of his first orders of business was ending the 287(g) program there, a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that funds local law enforcement agencies to engage in federal immigration enforcement activities.

Sheriff Gary McFadden, the first Black sheriff to be elected in Mecklenburg, made the announcement Wednesday about ending the program. Since it began in 2006, the 287(g) agreement has led to the deportation of 15,000 Mecklenburg residents, according to the ACLU of North Carolina.

During the 2018 elections for sheriff in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, the ACLU invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a nonpartisan campaign to educate voters about the candidates’ positions on crucial civil rights issues, including the 287(g) program.

Voters responded by electing McFadden and new Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, who both vowed during their campaigns to end 287(g) programs and voters elected them both.

“Voters made it clear that Mecklenburg County should not help fuel the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, and we are glad to see the new sheriff hold himself to that promise,” said Karen Anderson, Executive Director of the ACLU of NC. “The 287(g) program encourages widespread racial profiling, diverts local law enforcement resources, and harms relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. We applaud Sheriff McFadden’s quick action to implement a new model for safety and justice and will continue to work with our partners to ensure all collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement is ended in Mecklenburg.”

ACLU of NC spokesman Mike Meno said after Wake and Mecklenburg put an end to their 287(g) programs, there will only be four more counties with it in the state in Nash, Henderson, Cabarrus and Gaston.

Alamance County had applied to re-enter into a 287(g) agreement, but is considering instead entering into a separate agreement to hold ICE detainees.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

House Democrats propose a bill to expand NC voting rights

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Pitt, Wilson) on Tuesday discussed a Democratic bill to expand voting rights in North Carolina. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday morning that would create an automatic and an online voter registration process in response to the measure implementing a voter ID requirement in the constitution.

“No one should be denied their right to vote,” said Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) at a legislative press conference.

He and three other colleagues — Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Pitt, Wilson) and Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) — are the primary sponsors of House Bill 1115, the Let North Carolina Vote Act.

Part one of the bill creates a system for universal voter registration. Anyone who registers with a state agency for any purpose would also be automatically registered to vote — this would include any registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Health and Human Services (public assistance, Medicaid/Medicare and unemployment) and public community colleges and universities.

Other parts of the measure allow for Election Day voter registration, require county boards of elections to provide voters with a free photo ID, creates a system for online voter registration and extends early voting.

“Don’t restrict voting; give people their proper voice,” Morey said at the press conference. “This bill that we’re proposing is to expand — give the basic rights to our citizens. … Don’t make this complicated; don’t disenfranchise voters — that is the intent on what the majority is doing. We are here to protect voter’s rights, to encourage voting and get everyone in the state a voice.”

The backdrop of this bill includes Senate lawmakers already passing Senate Bill 824, the voter ID measure, amid a GOP voting fraud scandal in the 9th congressional district, which is being investigated by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Still, Meyer said he didn’t expect GOP lawmakers to be accepting of the Let North Carolina Vote Act.

“We do not file this bill in anticipation of the Republicans seeing the light,” he said. “We file this as a way to show this is what Democrats would do, and should we take the majority at any point in the future, we would work on pushing these types of policies to make it possible for North Carolinians to vote.”

Farmer-Butterfield described the bill as a solution to voter ID that would be in the best interest of all parties involved and the constituents of North Carolina.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lawsuit: UNC, Nash UNC health care systems discriminating against blind patients

The National Federation of the Blind, Disability Rights North Carolina and individual blind patients are suing UNC Health Care System and Nash UNC Health Care for systematic discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges that blind patients do not receive critical communications in alternate formats — such as Braille, large print, or electronic documents — only standard print. This causes financial and personal hardships for blind patients and does not allow them to keep their medical information private.

The allegations are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“For instance, according to the lawsuit, plaintiff John Bone is a blind patient who visited Nash General Hospital for emergency medical care services on two separate occasions,” a news release states. “Each visit, he informed the hospital that he was blind and needed to receive all his medical bills in Braille. Mr. Bone instead received all the bills in print, and he did not know how much money he owed or even to whom he owed money until collection agencies pursued and threatened him. Mr. Bone seeks to receive medical bills in Braille, so he can pay his bills without accruing late fees, enduring harassment from creditors, and having his credit score needlessly damaged.”

Another plaintiff named in the lawsuit visits a UNC Health Care provider at least once every six months and needs documents formatted in large print in order to read them. During his medical visits, he is forced to sign forms he cannot read and receives visit summaries, follow-up medical instructions, and bills all in standard print, according to the lawsuit.

That patient often must share personal medical information with third parties to understand and follow medical instructions. He seeks to keep his medical information private, which he can do if he received documents in large print.

“Blind people need and deserve the same privacy and independence in managing our healthcare that sighted patients take for granted,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “In some cases, the ability to receive information in formats we can use can make a life-or-death difference. With today’s technology, providing bills, medical records, and treatment instructions in alternative formats is readily achievable, and all providers have a moral and legal obligation to do so.”

Virginia Knowlton Marcus, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC, said they are representing blind individuals in North Carolina because the failure to communicate with them violates their rights and increases their chances of incurring fines and damaging their credit scores. She said it also disregards their need for independence and privacy, and puts their very health at risk.

“Health care providers have the responsibility to know and do better,” she added.

The plaintiffs are represented by the attorneys of Disability Rights NC and the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints familiar face as new Elections, Ethics Enforcement chair

Josh Malcolm’s kids attended his swearing in ceremony when he was first appointed as vice chairman of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement vice chairman Joshua Malcolm as chair following Andy Penry’s resignation.

The Washington Post was the first to report Penry’s separation from the Board, which occurred after the state Republican Party complained about his tweets — several of which were reported to be highly critical of President Donald Trump. His departure also comes as the State Board continues to investigate alleged voter fraud in the 9th congressional district race.

“The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy,” Penry wrote in the statement published by the Post. “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”

Cooper’s Office confirmed Monday that he was appointing Malcolm to the vacant chair position and stated that he planned to announce an appointment to the subsequent vacancy within a day.

“North Carolinians deserve to have confidence in our democratic process and as Chair, Joshua Malcom’s leadership and experience will help ensure fair and honest elections,” Cooper said in a news release.

Malcolm, a Democratic member of the State Board, is from Pembroke. He is the chief legal officer, general counsel and assistant secretary to the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees. He also serves as a justice on the Supreme Court of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

Cooper chose Robert Cordle, a retired attorney who previously served on the State Board, to replace Malcolm.

Cordle was nominated by Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin, along with Greg Flynn, who serves on the Wake County Board of Elections.

“Robert Cordle has a proven record of service on the State Board of Elections, putting aside party affiliation to hold elected leaders accountable,” Cooper stated. “I appreciate their service to our state.”

The State Board’s future is currently up in the air. A three-judge panel ruled the nine-member structure of the Board unconstitutional, and it was set to dissolve today but the court granted a two-week extension as the board continues to investigate voter fraud. See the full order below.

A spokesman for the State Board has not returned several emails seeking comment about what will happen to the agency.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect responses from Cooper.

18 CVS 3348_Order to Extend Stay 12.3.2018 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, News

Report: Mark Harris knew and recommended consultant at center of voter fraud scandal

Rev. Mark Harris

A new report from The Charlotte Observer suggests Mark Harris — the presumed winner of this year’s U.S. House District 9 race — knew and recommended the embattled campaign consultant at the center of the voter fraud scandal.

The newspaper published a story this afternoon that digs into McRae Dowless’ background, which includes a felony conviction in 1992 for fraud and perjury.

But perhaps the most interesting segment suggests that Harris, a Republican from Charlotte, once recommended Dowless’ services to another candidate.

Questions about Dowless and the handling of absentee ballots in District 9 derailed the certification process for that election, which Harris appeared to win last month by about 900 votes.

It’s unclear what happens next in the stalled election.

From The Charlotte Observer:

A man who worked as an “independent contractor” for Republican Mark Harris’ campaign in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is a convicted felon who faced jail time for fraud and perjury, according to court records.

Over the last two decades, he has been paid by at least nine candidates, all for get-out-the-vote work, according to state records.

Leslie McCrae Dowless was convicted of felony fraud in 1992 in Iredell County, according to court records. Dowless and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death, according to a 1991 Fayetteville Observer article. He served more than six months of a two-year prison sentence, according to court records.

Dowless, now 62, was convicted of felony perjury in 1990, according to court records.

The results of Harris’ apparent victory over Democrat Dan McCready in November’s election have not been certified by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The nine-member board has twice declined to certify the results and will hold an evidentiary hearing this month due to “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots,” according to Joshua Malcolm, the board’s vice chair.

Dowless was paid by the Harris campaign as a contractor for the candidate’s top consultant, according to The Charlotte Observer.

“He was an independent contractor who worked on grassroots for the campaign, independent of the campaign … as he’s done for a number of campaigns over the years,” said Andy Yates, Harris’ top strategist and the founder of Red Dome Group.

In an affidavit given to the Democratic Party, Dwight Sheppard, a fire investigator in Bladen County, said he believes Dowless is in the thick of the controversy. Dowless has denied any wrongdoing to The Charlotte Observer. He could not be reached on Monday by phone or on Sunday at an address listed for him in voting records. Read more