Commentary, Voting

Unlike North Carolina, some states are making voter participation easier instead of suppressing it

Most of the voting rights news lately has not been very encouraging. State legislative leaders are promising to bring up another photo ID bill in one of the series of special legislative sessions likely to be held this summer and fall.

The last effort at enacting a photo ID requirement was part of the massive voter suppression law struck down by federal courts who said it targeted minority voters with “surgical precision.”

Things are even scarier in Washington, where President Trump’s absurd election commission held its first meeting this week with its vice-chairman Kris Kobach from Kansas refusing to admit that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election.

The meeting’s coda was an MSNBC television interview in which Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican who is the panel’s vice chairman and de facto head, was asked, “Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three to five million votes because of voter fraud?” He replied: “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.”

But some states are not playing the dangerous voter suppression game. In fact, the Governor of Rhode Island this week signed legislation that automatically registers people to vote when they are getting a driver’s license or renewing one, unless they choose to opt out.

Steve Benen over at the Rachel Maddow Blog points out that the signature means nine states now have automatic registration and Illinois will soon become the 10th.

Not too long ago there was a consensus that the more people who participated in the Democratic process the better. The folks on the Right don’t think so anymore. Sadly, now their goal is to keep putting barriers to voting in front of people who are not likely to support them.

Environment, News, Voting

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Is North Carolina stuck in an abusive relationship?
Behavior of state leaders, state policy community raise warning flags

The last seven years in North Carolina politics and policy have been extraordinary. In a very short period of time, a once moderate state has been transformed into a kind of laboratory for far right policies and a testing ground for what we are coming to know now as Trumpism. On issue after issue, state legislative leaders have aggressively pursued an ultra-conservative agenda that seeks to radically remake the state’s social contract.

What’s more, this has not been a happy or buoyant transformation. Rather than being predicated on a positive or hopeful new vision of society, the conservative revolution in North Carolina has mostly been a counter-revolution. Even today, a point at which they enjoy veto-proof majorities and can realistically contemplate an entire decade in power, conservative legislative leaders premise most of their actions and policies more on an angry rejection of past supposed transgressions by Democrats than a coherent articulation of what they want to build. [Read more….]

2. School districts prepare for another year of class size controversy

When North Carolina legislators pushed through their $23 billion budget plan in June, it included one key, last-minute insertion in a separate technical corrections bill.

State lawmakers wrote that it’s their “intent” to use data collected this year from school districts to fund a new allotment for arts and physical education teachers beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

Given the well-documented consternation this year over a public school funding crisis spurred by lawmakers’ demands that schools reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, it’s an important, albeit tentative, promise. [Read more….]

3. Unlikely bedfellows rally to oppose seismic air gun testing, offshore drilling near the North Carolina coast

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas. [Read more…]

*** Editor’s note to the above story: The National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the public comment period on seismic testing to July 21.

4. Gerrymandering, the courts and the next election in North Carolina: All of your burning questions answered

It’s been a little over a month since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 state North Carolina House and Senate districts were racially gerrymandered but lawmakers have yet to draw new maps.

In the last month, there’s been some back-and-forth in the courts over North Carolina v. Covington, numerous headlines about the case and several rallies calling for immediate action from the legislature.

The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel will oversee the redrawing of the illegally gerrymandered maps and decide whether special elections before the regularly scheduled 2018 elections will be a proper remedy for the constitutional violations at hand.  [Read more…]

*** Bonus infographic:  Download our special timeline on gerrymandering in North Carolina
*** Bonus read: Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

5. NC’s response to opioid crisis is too little, too late says lawmaker with personal expertise

Opioid overdoses took 1,200 lives in North Carolina last year – part of an 800 percent increase since 1999 whose body count has now surpassed 12,000.

So when lawmakers approved the final state budget late last month, many expected the bipartisan concern would lead to significant funding to combat the opiate problem.

But while the budget did improve funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services, it was well under what Gov. Roy Cooper called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

N.C. Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) said she was disappointed – but not necessarily surprised. [Read more…]

News, Voting

Targeting of left-leaning cities continues with Asheville

A bill to change the way Asheville elects its city council members passed the Senate Wednesday, echoing changes handed down from Raleigh in other politically left-leaning cities.

You may remember a federal court recently struck down the General Assembly’s forced redistricting of the city of Greensboro.

The Asheville and Greensboro redistricting aren’t identical. But there are some interesting similarities:

* In both cases, the redistricting is opposed by the existing city council, elected by the actual citizens of each city.

* In both cases, the General Assembly rejected the idea of first holding a referendum in the city to decide on the redistricting to discern the actual will of the people there.

* Both redistricting plans would reduce the number and influence of council members elected at-large or by the entire city. In both cities, at-large seats tend to go to left-leaning candidates as the number of Democrats outstrips the number of Republicans.

Whether the Asheville redistricting will be successfully challenged in court remains to be seen. But it’s the latest example in what has become a well-established pattern of the Republican majority in Raleigh targeting the governments of cities with enduring Democratic majorities.

News, Voting

Voting rights group: Investigate McCrory’s false “voter fraud” claims

Voter rights group Democracy NC is calling for a state and federal criminal investigation into false claims of voter fraud made by former governor Pat McCrory campaign during last year’s bruising gubernatorial contest.

You may remember the false accusations the surfaced after McCrory narrowly lost to Roy Cooper. McCrory, a Republican, contested the election results and dragged out the process even as GOP majorities on the State Board of Election and county election boards across the state rejected his claims of fraud.

Now Democracy NC is releasing an 16-page report on the McCrory campaign’s accusations, the people wrongfully accused of voter fraud and the “wrongdoing related to preparing, filing and promoting bogus charges of voter fraud.”

The report, the result of a five-month investigation, will be released at a press conference at 1 p.m. today outside the State Board of Elections office in Raleigh.

We’ll have more on the report after its release this afternoon.

News, Voting

Voters falsely accused of fraud share stories, ask State Board of Elections for change

North Carolinians in 16 counties who were falsely accused of voter fraud last year by former Gov. Pat McCrory’s Campaign have asked the State Board of Elections to change its protest process.

When McCrory was losing the election last year, GOP lawyers recruited residents to file election protests against individuals accused of voting with a felony, voting in a deceased person’s name or voting in multiple states.

At least 85 voters were falsely accused and four are currently involved in a defamation lawsuit against the people who signed their protests.

Other voters who were falsely accused shared their stories with the Elections Board in a telephone conference Monday that was facilitated by the voting rights organization, Democracy North Carolina.

“I was literally shocked,” Betty B. Adams told Kim Strach, executive director of the Elections Board. “I was upset for several days.”

Joseph Golden described to Strach his surprise and frustration after seeing his name appear in Brunswick County newspapers and after reading someone’s social media post, “There’s a cheater amongst us.”

Anne Hughes of Moore County told Strach that she was “just incredulous” when she learned that she and her husband had been accused of voting in two states.

“I was shocked and horrified and furious to learn our name was on a list with people who were alleged to have broken a federal law,” she said.

Aysha Nasir of Orange County added, “You obey the law, you do all the stuff you’re supposed to, and then some person just randomly, without any burden of proof, can accuse you of breaking the law.”

Those voters and others presented Strach with a letter calling on the Elections Board to “(1) change the form for filing a protest complaint so it requires a presentation of evidence to support an allegation; and (2) create a process to hold accountable anyone who files a frivolous or negligent complaint or a pattern of repeated false complaints.”

You can read the full letter here.

You can listen part of the conference call where voters shared their shock and outrage over being falsely accused of voter fraud here.

Strach told the group that she appreciated hearing their statements, calling them “very powerful.” She said her staff was already working on possible revisions for the protest form and process, and she anticipated taking several recommendations to the five-member State Board of Elections at its next meeting.

One change she mentioned would require the protester to swear under penalty of perjury that the information in the form is true.

Bob Hall with Democracy NC said the organization is conducting a county-by-county investigation of the protests and their impact on innocent voters.

“Unfortunately, North Carolina is ground zero for witnessing the damage inflicted on honest voters and the elections system by inflated or bogus claims of voter fraud,” Hall said. “The testimony of the voters shows the real pain and harm caused by these irresponsible claims. Their stories also show that anybody can suddenly find themselves charged with a crime when voter fraud accusations are used as a political weapon.”