News

NC absentee ballot requests top one million. What do we know about these voters?

If you requested an absentee ballot and are still waiting for it to arrive in the mail, you’re not alone.

According to the State Board of Elections, 1,028,648 requests for an absentee ballot had been received as of September 24th.

Roughly 22% (227,761 of those ballot requests) have been returned and processed.

Catawba College political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer and the good folks at Old North State Politics have been taking a closer look at those who have already voted absentee by mail and here’s what they learned:

Source: Old North State Politics

And here’s a look at how things have been trending over the past two weeks:

Source: Old North State Politics

Learn more @OldNorthStPol

North Carolina voters, including voters serving in the military or living overseas, can request an absentee ballot online through the Absentee Ballot Request Portal.

The deadline to request your absentee ballot for the General Election is October 27th.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State Board of Trustees refuses to hear from Faculty Senate chair as tensions continue

The Appalachian State University Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the academic year Friday — but it refused a request by the school’s Faculty Senate to speak at the meeting.

Last month Policy Watch reported on the Faculty Senate passing a resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of App State Chancellor Sheri Everts.  This week, as the school continues to face issues like the COVID-19 pandemic  and an ongoing controversy over an on-campus voting site Michael Behrent, chair of the ASU faculty senate, requested five minutes to address the board as provided for in the board’s by-laws.

In an email this week Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Hank Foreman told Behrent that the board considered but declined his request.

Unable to address the board during its meeting, Behrent recorded and uploaded a video of the comments he prepared.

The faculty reaction to the board’s rebuff was swift and negative. On Friday a large number of them wrote to express their displeasure with the decision.

“Faculty would like to work with you and with the executive administration, together, to make Appalachian stronger,” wrote Martha McCaughey, a professor of sociology and member of the Faculty Senate. “However, you rejected, without any explanation, the formal request of our Faculty Senate Chair, Dr. Michael Behrent, to give a short report, and this therefore does not appear on your meeting agenda.”

“It is poor optics to refuse to engage with the Faculty Senate in the midst of a pandemic, and following the faculty’s voicing serious concerns about shared governance of the university,” McCaughey wrote. “Administrators’ meeting with individual departments is not an acceptable substitute for the administration’s obligations related to shared governance as defined in Article IV of the Faculty Constitution and 7.1 and 7.2 of the Faculty Handbook.”

“The Faculty Senate, on which I serve, stands ready to engage with both the executive administration and the Board of Trustees,” she wrote.

Read more

Environment

DEQ cites Colonial Pipeline for gasoline spill, material includes cancer-causing chemicals

Colonial Pipeline ships gasoline and other petroleum through a 5,500-mile pipeline through the Southeast en route to New Jersey. (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

The cancer-causing compound benzene has been detected in groundwater  from an Aug. 14 gasoline spill in Huntersville, prompted state regulators to cite Colonial Pipeline, which is responsible for the accident.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today that it has issued a notice of violation for impacts to groundwater as a result of the 273,000-gallon spill. So far, DEQ has not fined the company, but wrote in the citation that it could assess civil penalties in the future.

Other chemicals detected in groundwater are xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene. Ethylbenzene exposure has also been linked to cancer, according to federal health officials. Depending on the dose and length of exposure, all four chemicals can harm the neurological system.

Neighbors of the spill have been concerned in particular about benzene in the groundwater. At a community meeting in Huntersville earlier this month, a Colonial Pipeline representative dodged questions about whether benzene was among the contaminants. The representative, Greg Glaze, told attendees that the gasoline was the “same that goes in your car.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” DEQ said it has also directed that Colonial Pipeline sample its onsite monitoring wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, because the material that was used to minimize flammable vapors was found to contain PFAS compounds.

DEQ has also determined that “the risk posed by the discharge or release at the subject site is high.”

Colonial is testing drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of the spill, which occurred off Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve. So far, the company has reported no petroleum detections in the drinking water wells, but the groundwater and soil is contaminated.

Colonial Pipeline has estimated that 96,557 gallons of the gasoline — or just a third of the estimated total — has been recovered.

The cause of the spill was a break in a portion of the 42-year-old pipeline that had been previously repaired in 2004, according to Colonial’s required 30-day report to federal regulators. Two 15-year-old boys riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve discovered the spill.

DEQ is requiring Colonial to take other remedial action:

  • Restore groundwater quality to the standards protective of human health and the environment;
  • Submit detailed reports monthly that include soil sampling, surface water and water supply well sampling results, groundwater flow, public water system hook-ups for residents, status of free product recovery efforts, and soil excavation, transportation and disposal records.; and
  • Submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment report by Jan. 20, 2021.
Commentary, Courts & the Law

NC GOP raffling off assault weapons to boost judicial candidates

Image: Adobe stock

There’s no explanation as to why one needs to be a man or own an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon (a weapon banned in some states) or a handgun to hunt game, but that isn’t stopping the North Carolina Republican Party from conducting a raffle for “North Carolina Republican Sportsmen” to benefit its “Judicial Victory Fund.”

Among the items one can get a chance to obtain through the raffle: a “Custom Built Trump AR-15 .223/5.56” (which appears to feature — we’re not making this up — engraved images of Trump’s signature comb over) and a “DPMS Oracle AR-15 .223/5.56.”

For those “sportsmen” who want to hunt with handguns (and since the raffle tickets feature an image of what appear to be deer antlers and the website an image of what appears to be Carolina woodlands, one presumes that’s the activity being suggested here) there’s also an “Auto-Ordnance 1911 – ‘MAGA’ Edition V1 .45 ACP Limited Edition” and a “Glock G19 Trump Edition 9mm” — both of which are also emblazoned with images of you-know-who.

Thankfully, the website promoting the event includes a sentence reading: “Ticket Buyer is responsible for verifying they are legally allowed to purchase or own a firearm.” One fervently hopes that it will be enforced.

And one also hopes that the would-be North Carolina jurists who will benefit from the proceeds from this fundraiser are having at least some inklings of discomfort in being associated with such an event and stand prepared to rule in a fully unbiased and impartial manner when it comes to any kind of firearm regulation or enforcement action that comes before them.

Click here to learn more about the raffle.

Commentary

Editorial blasts Berger and Moore’s laughable feigned outrage over voting changes

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

In case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer published one of its best editorials in some time yesterday. It deserves to be shared widely.

The subject is the — pardon the pun — “Trumped up” outrage being expressed by powerful Republican politicians at the recent action of the State Board of Elections in agreeing to some one-time improvements to voting rules to make sure that lots of North Carolinians aren’t disenfranchised this fall. As you’ve probably heard, the board settled a lawsuit challenging some of the state’s unnecessarily burdensome rules that would have assured that many North Carolinians voting by mail would have their ballots rejected for no good reason. The editorial rightfully dismisses Senator Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore’s recitations from the Trump playbook that this will somehow threaten the integrity of the election (absurd claims later repeated by Sen. Thom Tillis) as “comic relief.”

This is from “NC GOP leaders aren’t worried about voter fraud. They’re worried about a true vote.”:

The settlement in a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans was announced Tuesday. It extends the acceptance deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. It also allows voters who fail to have a witness sign their ballot to fix the error by signing an affidavit attesting that the ballot is indeed their own.

These are commonsense changes given the Postal Service’s delays in delivering mail, the risk of meeting with a witness during a pandemic and the unfamiliarity with the rules on the part of many people who will be voting absentee for the first time. Other states have extended their deadlines for absentee ballots and changed their witness requirement for this pandemic election.

All five members of the State Board of Elections – including its two Republicans – agreed to the settlement, which must be approved by Wake Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins.

Of course, after they agreed to the improvements, the two GOP members of the board changed their minds — presumably after getting marching orders from higher up — and resigned. Then Berger and Moore let loose with their absurd claims that the changes will somehow allow officials to “undo” the election.

Here again is the N&O:

The funniest line was Berger fuming that the one-time tweaks in response to the pandemic would constitute “a full-frontal assault on election integrity laws.” This from a leader who has pushed through election laws that courts have found to be unconstitutional efforts to suppress votes or alter outcomes through extreme gerrymandering.

The Republican leaders don’t fear voter fraud. They fear voters. A closer look at the settlement shows the State Board of Elections made a prudent decision to settle the legal challenge to help absentee voters and head off confusion as Election Day nears.

Amen to that. As the editorial notes, the changes are minor no-brainers and the only reason the GOP leaders oppose them is because they’re worried about the prospect of more North Carolinians having their votes counted.

Click here to learn the specifics of the rules changes and to read the full editorial.