Editorial: Extend voter registration deadlines in aftermath of deadly storm

voteWith Hurricane Matthew’s flood waters not yet receded, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of people in our state are not in a position right now to get the details of their lives fully in order. This would clearly include registering to vote. While the recent action of the federal Court of Appeals striking down the state’s “monster voting law” (and thereby reviving same day registration — which will allow people to register on Election Day and vote at the same time) will help, it’s still ridiculous that the state is not pushing back today’s voter registration deadline. An editorial in today’s Fayetteville Observer does a good job of making this point:

Here’s the conclusion:

“Registration deadline is today, but the board has told local officials to accept mailed-in registrations that arrive late. The board also notes that same-day registration is available at all early-voting sites, which will be open from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5.

At this point, it’s not clear that all early-voting sites will be able to open by next Thursday. It’s fortuitous that the courts struck down state voting reform legislation and that same-day registration is still an option. But it may not be enough in some of this state’s hardest-hit communities.

We hope the State Board of Elections will reconsider its decision to hold firm to its deadlines. Even if only a handful of would-be voters is unable to register, that’s a denial of the most basic American right.”

News, Policing

Department of Justice to begin collecting nationwide police use of force data


The COPS division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that 129 law enforcement agencies across the nation joined its Police Data Initiative. There are four North Carolina areas included. Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that it plans to launch an online database early next year to begin tracking all instances of police use of force across the nation, not just incidents that lead to death.

The effort is the largest federal undertaking of its kind but not unprecedented, and comes in the wake of numerous police-involved killings in places including Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ferguson, Missouri; Charleston, South Carolina; and recently in Charlotte.

“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve. In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue to work alongside our local, state, tribal and federal partners to ensure that we put in place a system to collect data that is comprehensive, useful and responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.”

The FBI has already begun working with law enforcement agencies to develop the National Use of Force Data Collection program, according to Lynch. The pilot data collection program will evaluate the effectiveness of the methodology used to collect the data and the quality of the information collected. For the next 53 days, all interested parties, including law enforcement agencies, civil rights organizations and other community stakeholders, are encouraged to make comments about the current proposal, which will be considered before the program’s implementation.

The program closes a gap in the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires state and federal law enforcement to submit data to the Justice Department about civilians who died during interactions with officers or in their custody (whether resulting from use or force or some other manner of death, such as suicide or natural causes). The law allows the Attorney General to impose a financial penalty on non-compliant states, but it does not impose a similar reporting requirement for non-lethal use of force incidents.

Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said Thursday that the Department of Justice’s announcement is a positive development for communities and police departments across the nation.

“This should have been happening a long time ago, and it’s good that this attorney general is taking the initiative,” she said.

Earls, who was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice for two and a half years, said a lot of non-governmental entities have taken efforts to track police use of force but that it makes more sense for federal officials to keep the information and analyze it.

She added that the Coalition plans to review the National Use of Force Data Collection program proposal and may take the opportunity to make comments if necessary. She said she would like to see the data collected on an individual officer basis because department-wide statistics can mask trends in individual issues.

The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office also announced today that it has assumed leadership of the Police Data Initiative (PDI), a transparency project initiated by the White House in 2015. Participating PDI law enforcement agencies commit to publicly releasing at least three policing datasets, which can include data on stops and searches, uses of force, officer-involved shootings and other police actions, according to the Department of Justice.

There are currently 129 departments participating in PDI, covering more than 44 million individuals across the country, including four North Carolina areas: Chapel Hill, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Kinston and Fayatteville.


State charter school board talks streamlining charter approvals

Charter schoolsAs we reported at Policy Watch in August, members of the State Board of Education (SBE) and their Charter School Advisory Board aren’t seeing eye to eye these days.

Case in point: Several charter board members and charter advocates expressed outrage after SBE members turned down a slate of prospective new charters this summer, citing inadequate academic planning and typos in at least one case, despite recommendations for approval by the charter board.

At least one charter board member even referred to members of the SBE as “soulless SOBs” in a Policy Watch report after that vote, a comment for which he later apologized.

On Thursday, members of the charter board, which is appointed by the legislature, Gov. Pat McCrory and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, signaled their intent to push for changes in the application process.

Charter board members, some of whom work for charter schools themselves, complained that prospective schools were blindsided by their rejections at the SBE level after receiving a warmer welcome from the charter board.

Thus, charter board members pitched a policy proposal Thursday that applicants who receive support from at least 75 percent of the charter board would be included on the SBE’s “consent agenda.”

Generally, “consent agenda” meeting items are considered to be non-controversial and may be passed with one vote, rather than requiring a case-by-case vote.

Of course, SBE members would have to sign off on the policy too. No charter critics spoke Thursday, but such an approach  is likely to anger some who would say the proposal is intended to circumvent or ease the vetting process for schools.

We’ll continue to follow this discussion as it develops.

Courts & the Law, News

More than 300 editorial boards across the nation have called for hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nomination

There have been 638 editorials written by more than 300 editorial boards in every U.S. state urging the Senate to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland.

Veteran D.C. court watcher and environmental policy advocate Glenn Sugameli released a state-by-state compilation of excerpts and links to the editorials. Of the editorial boards included in calls for the Senate to act, 60 endorsed a Republican for President in 2008, 2012 or both.

Obama nominated Garland on March 16 to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The Republican Senate’s refusal to confirm Garland has left the high court short-handed and split ideologically down the middle.

Twenty-one of the editorials Sugameli provides links to are from North Carolina. The two most recent are:

Greensboro News and RecordOur Opinion: A do-later Congress, Oct. 3:

“There’s still that Supreme Court vacancy. Republican senators are responsible for that. More than six months after President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the Senate has still refused to consider him. No one in modern history has waited longer for a hearing.”

Daily ReflectorEDITORIAL: State Republicans cast lot with pride and prejudice, July 6:

“If Donald Trump does not win in November, Republicans might regret the decision of their leadership to withhold consideration of President Obama’s temperately conservative Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, should this case travel that far.”

Commentary, News

Vinroot on Voter ID: No secret about it – Republicans tried to “curtail” Democrats

The Charlotte Observer’s Taylor Batten has an amazing account of Republican Richard Vinroot speaking out on the motivation behind voter ID.

Vinroot, a respected Republican who served as Charlotte’s mayor from 1991–1995 and made three unsuccessful runs for governor, was asked about voter fraud and the need for voter ID at a Charlotte business lunch on Wednesday.

We’ll let Batten take the story from there:


Richard Vinroot

Vinroot said there have been instances of voter fraud over the years, and he cited Lyndon Johnson’s election to the U.S. Senate and John F. Kennedy’s election to president in 1960. But…

“It does go on; I suspect it’s at the margins,” Vinroot told the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club. “I don’t think it’s probably enough to justify, on the face of it, voter ID.”

He said almost everyone has ID or could easily get one.

“But it’s clearly about Republicans trying to curtail that voter, there’s no secret about that.

“There’s no doubt there’s some gaming going on on both sides. There’s no doubt the folks who don’t want voter ID are more interested in Democratic voters voting without regard to whether they can identify themselves or not. But you’d be hard-pressed probably today to say all these things (voting restrictions) are justified.”

Kudos to Vinroot for speaking the truth, even if it steps on the toes of most in his own party.

Read the full account here in the Charlotte Observer.

Voter ID will not be required this election cycle. A federal court struck down much of North Carolina’s monster voting law earlier this year.