News

Final week of early voting, North Carolinians continue to exceed expectations

If you haven’t voted yet but plan on voting early, election experts will tell you to vote earlier this week and not procrastinate.

Yes, early voting runs through October 31st, which is Saturday. But wait times will likely be longer as we approach the weekend.

As of Monday, more than 3,171,202 ballots had been cast and our state has now exceeded ALL of 2016’s absentee ballots cast.  Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

Absentee One Stop (In-Person): 2,393,054
Absentee by mail: 778,164
Absentee Ballots Requested 1,435,725

Counties with the largest turnout by percent as of Monday:
Chatham: 55.39 % of votes cast (31,932)
Orange: 50.62% (56,585 total ballots cast)
Durham: 50.59% (123,062 total ballots cast)

In the larger counties:
Wake: 44.92% (355,673 total ballots cast)
Mecklenburg; 43.06% (340,059 total ballots cast)
Buncombe: 48.29% (99,681 total ballots cast)

Click here to find your one-stop early voting site.

For more on this year’s election turnout and North Carolina’s battleground status in the final days of the campaign, listen to our recent radio interview with Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper.

Cooper is the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor and Department Head of Political Science & Public Affairs at WCU. He is an expert on Southern Politics and North Carolina Politics.

Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper

Commentary, News

One of NC’s top journalists joins the Policy Watch reporting team

Lynn Bonner

NC Policy Watch is delighted to announce that one of North Carolina’s most experienced and best-respected journalists has joined its already formidable and award-winning reporting team.

Lynn Bonner, who for the last 25-plus years has covered several important beats for Raleigh’s News & Observer, joins the PW team this week as an investigative reporter.

Most readers will know Bonner best for her two decades of covering state government for the N&O — a period during which she authored thousands of stories on the machinations of the General Assembly, politics and elections, and the workings of numerous public agencies.

As Bonner’s former longtime former colleague and current States Newsroom national editor Mary Cornatzer puts it:

“Lynn’s knowledge of the inner workings of the legislature and state agencies has served North Carolina readers well for more than 25 years. Her stories have long centered on how the state’s policies and legislation affect residents. She has deep understanding of the state’s Medicaid program and state employees’ health care. Her reporting over the years has unearthed problems in nursing homes and inequities in education. And she has spent countless hours making sense of the state budget. Lynn is a fair, accurate and thorough reporter, and I am thrilled she has decided to bring her many talents to NC Policy Watch.”

But despite her deep familiarity with state government and the stories surrounding it, Bonner’s award-winning skills have broken and provided in-depth coverage of numerous important stories that extend well beyond the Raleigh beltline — from hurricanes to mental health, Medicaid policy to state and local education, the environment to infant mortality and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read her front page story from today’s N&O: “As mold grows in the aftermath of hurricanes, more NC asthma patients suffer.”

Our entire Policy Watch team is delighted to have Lynn as our new colleague and look forward to many years of reporting the stories that matter. She can be contacted at [email protected].

News

New poll: Tillis remains ‘endangered’ incumbent, approval rating trails Trump’s

Heading into the final days of the 2020 election season, a new Meredith College poll finds a majority of North Carolinians (53.6%) disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, which could be troubling news for Republican Senator Thom Tillis’s re-election bid.

The Meredith College polls finds Tillis’s job approval remains low (40.2%) and below that of President Trump (43.9%.)

And while Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham has been under fire following the revelation of an affair, he still leads Tillis by five points (43% vs 38%) in the U.S. Senate race.

“It is Tillis’s lukewarm approval among Republicans that makes his reelection campaign so difficult,” said Meredith Poll Director David McLennan. “His recent campaign strategy to criticize Cal Cunningham for his marital infidelity and corruption does not do much to improve his own approval ratings, even among Republicans.”

So, what’s driving voters to the polls?

Almost two-thirds of respondents (65.6%) in the Meredith poll said the government’s response to the pandemic was a significant factor in who they are voting for this year.

And with cases of COVID-19 rising across the state and nation, a majority of North Carolinians (57.9%) favor the Affordable Care Act.

Eighty-three percent (83.4%) of those polled said they wanted the federal government to pass another stimulus package to help deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite efforts this week by the U.S. House and the White House to reach a coronavirus stimulus deal, it’s become unclear Senate Republicans would be willing to move on the massive relief package ahead of the election.

Time to persuade or shift voters’ positions may be running out.

As of Friday morning, more than 2.6 million North Carolinians had already cast their ballot either by mail or by early voting.

Read the full results from the Meredith Poll here.

Environment, News

Burlington, Haw River Assembly reach agreement on PFAS contamination; Pittsboro blood results to be released tomorrow

The Haw River, drinking water supply for the Town of Pittsboro, as seen from the Bynum Bridge (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Haw River Assembly, finalized a memorandum of agreement with the City of Burlington in which the city agreed to investigate the sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals and 1,4-Dioxane in the city’s wastewater discharges.

“This agreement and investigation takes us one step closer to making the Haw River cleaner and safer,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents Haw River Assembly. “With the city’s cooperation, we can identify the source of the PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane pollution in Burlington’s treatment systems much more quickly than through litigation. Once the source is identified, the city can and should take steps to stop the pollution.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Burlington will investigate the sources of industrial pollution into its wastewater treatment systems that are causing the city to discharge PFAS chemicals and 1,4-Dioxane into the Haw River. The city will conduct extensive sampling throughout its treatment systems over the next several months under the agreement.

The Haw River is the primary drinking water source for the Town of Pittsboro. Because of upstream discharges from Burlington, Reidsville and Greensboro wastewater treatment plants, levels of PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane in Pittsboro’s drinking water are consistently elevated. The City of Greensboro has entered into a preliminary Special Order of Consent with the NC Department of Environmental Quality over its discharges of 1,4-Dioxane; a public hearing is expected to be announced within the next few weeks, according to a DEQ spokeswoman. Reidsville is working to incorporate changes into its discharge permit, according to DEQ.

The discharges have serious consequences for downstream communities. At a virtual public meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. Duke University scientist Heather Stapleton and the Haw River Assembly are releasing results of a PFAS exposure study, which includes results from the river, drinking water and blood of Pittsboro residents. Results have shown that Pittsboro residents have high levels of PFAS in their blood.

PFAS and 1,4-dioxane, which are produced by industry or are byproducts of manufacturing processes, are both toxic and have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer. Because these compounds persist in the environment, they are known as “forever chemicals.” In addition, traditional water treatment technology can’t remove them from drinking water. In Wilmington, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is spending upward of $45 million to upgrade its water treatment plant to further reduce the levels of PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane.

Burlington Director of Water Resources Bob Patterson issued a statement about the agreement:

“The City remains in full compliance with the rules and permit requirements for our wastewater discharge as set by North Carolina and Federal regulatory agencies.  There are many unknowns about the environmental and health effects of thousands of chemicals used in our daily lives that are subsequently found in the wastewater stream. However, we recognize that new research can reveal previously unknown concerns.

“When the Haw River Assembly came to us with their concerns, we immediately initiated accelerated, voluntary sampling at our wastewater treatment plants, from our relatively few significant industrial users, and from the landfill leachate brought to one plant for treatment. This agreement formalizes nearly a year of working with the Haw River Assembly to develop a cutting edge PFAS sampling plan and source tracking initiative that can serve as a national model for utilities around the country.”

The city will maintain results of the monitoring at its website BurlingtonNC.gov/Water .

Nearly a year ago SELC informed Burlington officials that it intended to sue over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. Even though the EPA doesn’t regulated PFAS and 1,4-dioxane in drinking water, the compounds are subject to provisions of the CWA, which covers rivers, streams and lakes. Policy Watch reported at the time that Burlington’s wastewater discharge permits didn’t include either 1,4-Dioxane or PFAS in its list of chemicals and compounds that the city can flush into surface waters. The two wastewater treatment plants — East and South — each process up to 12 million gallons of discharge per day.

“Haw River Assembly has been studying and working to stop PFAS pollution in the Haw River since 2015,” explained Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper. “Burlington’s treatment plant is a main source of the PFAS in the river, and we are glad this important investigation is moving forward. We are committed to eliminating these toxic chemicals from the river to protect the communities who depend on it.”

immigration, News

Biden in final debate vows an immigration overhaul in his first 100 days as president

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally earlier this year – Image: Sean Rayford, Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday night distanced himself from the Obama administration’s handling of undocumented people that led to the highest rate of deportations of any presidency and said he would act swiftly on immigration as president.

During the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Biden admitted that the Obama administration made a mistake in not reforming immigration policy during eight years in office. More than 3 million undocumented people were deported while Barack Obama was president and Biden served as his vice president.

“It took too long to get it right,” Biden said.

Biden said if he’s elected, within 100 days he’s going to direct Congress to craft a legislative pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S.

Biden has released two immigration policies, in which the first portion would undo all the Trump administration policies, such as family separations, and end detention centers for children. The second part would work to provide a path for citizenship.

“And all of those so-called dreamers, those DACA kids, they’re going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship,” Biden said, referring to an Obama-era program for undocumented people brought to the United States as children.

President Donald Trump defended his administration’s immigration policies and blamed the Obama administration for creating detention facilities in the first place.

“Who made the cages, Joe?” Trump asked multiple times.

The Trump administration has come under fire this week after lawyers told a federal judge that they cannot find the parents of 545 children who were separated under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The Trump administration started separating families in 2017 under a pilot program.

“Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated,” Biden said. “And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. It’s criminal.”

Trump, returning to a familiar theme that appeals to his political base, said that the Obama administration’s practice of “catch and release” let dangerous people into the country.

The term comes from the George W. Bush administration and it allows an undocumented person to live in the US while they await a hearing in immigration court rather than stay in a detention center.

“He has no understanding of immigration law,” Trump said of his opponent. “‘Capture and release’ was a disaster, a murderer would come in, and a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in and we would take their name and have to release them into our country.”

Trump also said that those who are apprehended “don’t come back” for their court cases, “except for those with the lowest IQ, they might come back.” Biden responded that it is “simply not true” they don’t come back. FactCheck.org has said that the Trump administration itself has said that 50 percent of those apprehended and released appear in court.