Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Partisan gerrymandering plaintiffs ask state court to speed up proceedings

Common Cause has asked a North Carolina state court to expedite a trial over partisan gerrymandering.

The voting rights organization, along with the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit last week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 legislative maps used in the midterm elections.

They filed a motion Tuesday to speed everything up (with a proposed timeline) and have asked the court to have a trial that begins April 15, 2019.

“It is in the overwhelming interest of both the parties and the public to resolve this case as expeditiously as possible to ensure that, if the 2017 plans are found unconstitutional, there is sufficient time to establish new, lawful districts for the 2020 primary and general elections,” the document states.

Deadlines relating to the 2020 elections are quickly approaching, according to the court document. The window for candidates to file for party primary nominations is scheduled to open Dec. 2, 2019 and primary elections will be held March 3, 2020.

A three-judge panel still has to be assigned to the case. Read the full motion to expedite below.

Motion for expedition by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

agriculture, Trump Administration

Trump administration’s bailout for farmers slower than watching corn grow

At 60 days, a hog’s life is a third over. Some fast-growing varieties of fall corn, planted just two months ago, are ready for harvesting. But the Trump administration’s big, big bailouts —  the biggest ever! — promised for the nation’s farmers have been trickling, not flowing to those harmed by the president’s international trade policies.

Only $838 million of the $12 billion has been paid out, reported The New York Times, with just $1 million going divided among a few hundred North Carolina farmers as of Oct. 31, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The USDA announced in late August that payments would start Sept. 4. The money is supposed to help offset the financial impact of retaliatory tariffs levied against US products — the result of Trump’s trade war with China, Canada, Mexico and several other countries. But few farmers have benefitted from the program.

Of the 47,800 farmers and related operations in North Carolina, just 870 have received any money from the USDA. (Some farmers, depending on the crop, aren’t eligible.) The farming operations listed raise dairy cows or hogs, as well as grow wheat, corn, soybeans or sorghum. The average amount per farmer is about $1,200; a third of the recipients received less than $125, according to the EWG database. The EWG’s data is from the USDA.

The top five recipients are in the hog business, with the largest bailout payment of $60,000 going to Nash Pigg Rentals of Bailey. The land business shares an address with a slaughterhouse, Dean Street Processing. Smithfield Foods is not among the beneficiary; the Chinese-owned company was eligible for up to $249,000 in US government aid, but withdrew from the program after USDA and public scrutinty.

Here are the other largest amounts, listed by commodity:

  • Soybeans: Meri-Re-Me, Corporation of Belhaven, $28,481
  • Corn: Myers, LLC of Jamestown, $19,144
  • Dairy cattle: Beam Dairy of Cherryville $17,543
  • Sorghum: Hargett Farms, Marshville, $17,180
  • Wheat: Weeks & Weeks of Dunn, $7,342

The EWG also reported that 85 farming operations received more than the $125,000 cap; none of those farms is in North Carolina. The watchdog group also found that 1,142 “farmers” in the nation’s 50 largest cities have received bailout payments so far: That includes nine residents of San Francisco, four of Los Angeles, five of New York City and four of Washington, DC, according to the EWG website.

RecipientCityCommodityAmount ($)
NASH PIGG RENTALS LLCBAILEYHOGS60115
SPRING MEADOW FARM OF JOHNSTON COUNTY INCSMITHFIELDHOGS41748
LEE BROTHERS FARMFOUR OAKSHOGS37344
WEEKS & WEEKSDUNNHOGS37000
HAROLD W LEE SWINE LLCFOUR OAKSHOGS31956
MERI-RE-MI CORPBELHAVENSOYBEANS28481
WHITLEY W STEPHENSONSMITHFIELDHOGS22304
MYERS LLCJAMESTOWNCORN19144
BEAM DAIRY LLCCHERRYVILLEDAIRY17453
HARGETT FARMS LLCMARSHVILLESORGHUM17180
THOMAS FARMS PORK INCTIMBERLAKEHOGS16176
ADAM C GRADYKENANSVILLEHOGS15200
SHADY GROVE DAIRYEAST BENDDAIRY13414
GARY L MACGIBBONCROUSEDAIRY12750
GREEN VALLEY FARMS LLCRANDLEMANDAIRY12500
MYERS DAIRY INCJONESVILLEDAIRY12388
MARVIN HARDISON FARMS INCARAPAHOESOYBEANS12215
DOUGLAS E COWANERNULHOGS9056
JCR FARMS LLCBATHSOYBEANS7940
WEEKS & WEEKSDUNNWHEAT7352
MEDLIN FARMS EVERETTE E AND ANDREW G MEDLINMONROEWHEAT6679
THURMAN BURLESON & SONSRICHFIELDWHEAT6236
RICHARD K TUCKER DBA HTH FARMSMARSHVILLEWHEAT6183
BAUCOM FAMILY FARM GENERAL PARTNERSHIPMONROEWHEAT6015
PRICE BROTHERS FARMING INCMOUNT OLIVEWHEAT5980
LARRY GALLIHERHARMONYDAIRY5960
LUCAS F RICHARDNEWTONWHEAT5936
TURNER DAIRY LLCRANDLEMANDAIRY5920
PHILLIP HINSONMONROEWHEAT5621
STEVEN NEWMANLELANDSOYBEANS5465
EAKER DAIRY INCCHERRYVILLEDAIRY5401
HOWELL FARMSPINETOWNWHEAT5365
CAUDLE FARMS LLCPEACHLANDWHEAT5356
RALPH ROSS DAIRY FARMWAYNESVILLEDAIRY5328
UMPHLETT BROTHERSGATESWHEAT5068
TRIPLE R DAIRY FARM INCWAYNESVILLEDAIRY4760
GEORGE A NESBITTFLETCHERDAIRY4630
TAR RIVER GRAIN LLCGREENVILLEWHEAT4576
BARRY CHRISTOPHER LOWRYELIZABETH CITYSOYBEANS4543
JOSEPH M JOHNSONLIBERTYDAIRY4321
ALAN SMITH DBA DADDY PETE FARMSSTONY POINTDAIRY4318
SHARP FARMS INCSIMSHOGS4284
H EDDIE BENNETTLAWSONVILLEHOGS4200
WILLIAMS BROTHERS FARMMONROEWHEAT4134
FAIRVIEW FARMS INCNEW BERNSOYBEANS4124
TRIPLE R FARMSMARSHVILLEWHEAT4122
KELVIN BAUCOMMONROEWHEAT3969
DFB FARMS INCRALEIGHSOYBEANS3916
SMITH BROTHERS FARM OF MATTHEWSMATTHEWSWHEAT3838
GREEN VALLEY FARMSCOLUMBIAWHEAT3780
MICHAEL THOMAS CLAYTON CROSS CREEK DAIRY ROCK HILL FARMHURDLE MILLSDAIRY3764
THOMAS FAMILY FARMS INCTIMBERLAKEWHEAT3724
MOORE FARM INCMOUNT ULLAWHEAT3640
DIANE SCHAAFRALEIGHSOYBEANS3625
WALLACE FARMS INCROSE HILLHOGS3560
PHILLIP B AUSTINWINGATEWHEAT3559
HARGETT FARMS LLCMARSHVILLEWHEAT3322
JWM DAIRY FARM LLCCLIMAXDAIRY3313
BISHOP FARMING ENTERPRISES INCPANTEGOWHEAT3288
OAKMERE FARMS LLPBROWNS SUMMITDAIRY3274
STEPSTONE HOLSTEINS INCBLANCHDAIRY3220
WESLEY A FOSTER FARMS LLCCOLUMBIAWHEAT3159
COASTAL CAROLINA GRAIN LLCROPERWHEAT3159
NASH FARMCHARLOTTESOYBEANS3125
DARRELL GENE WRIGHTFRANKLINVILLEDAIRY3113
DARREL W DAVENPORTCRESWELLWHEAT3040
B2 FARMS NC LLCWASHINGTONWHEAT3039
WILLIAMS BROTHERS FARMSSOUTH MILLSWHEAT3026
SCOTT H DAVISMOORESVILLEDAIRY3023
TAYLOR FARMSMONROEWHEAT3012
CHARLES EVERETTE ANDERSONSTATESVILLEWHEAT2985
BYRON E PURSERMONROEWHEAT2976
CRAIG KING FARMS LLCTEACHEYWHEAT2884
CHARLES L CURRINOXFORDDAIRY2855
JOHNNY BRUCE FERGUSONCLYDEDAIRY2803
THOMAS BEELERASHEVILLESOYBEANS2705
HAROLD & SUSAN SMITH PARTNERSHIPBELHAVENWHEAT2691
BEVILLE BROTHERS DAIRYREIDSVILLEDAIRY2682
OLIAN R WILLIAMS JRSCRANTONWHEAT2656
MOUNTAIN WOODLANDS LLCFAIRVIEWDAIRY2616
PIEDMONT JERSEYS LLCLINCOLNTONDAIRY2587
NEAL P JOHNSONSTATESVILLEDAIRY2560
SHELLY J SMITHNORWOODDAIRY2550
MARY H PROCTORBESSEMER CITYDAIRY2500
HERLOCKER FARMS INCALBEMARLEWHEAT2446
MOORE FARM INCMOUNT ULLADAIRY2432
AZALEE LONGMONROEWHEAT2425
LYNN THOMASMARSHVILLEWHEAT2419
CLAY EDWIN AND JAMES JOINESSPARTADAIRY2394
CHAD OXENDINEROWLANDWHEAT2390
DANNY BULLARDPEMBROKEWHEAT2367
PARKER & SONS FARMS LLCMONROEWHEAT2359
ROGER DEAN OXENDINEROWLANDWHEAT2350
SMITHSON FARMS INCSHAWBOROWHEAT2308
MATTHEW CURTIS BELLKINGS MOUNTAINWHEAT2240
LEROY PETE WOOD-LEROY E WOOD TRUSTGRAHAMSOYBEANS2225
PATRICIA A QUIST REVOCABLE TRUST AGREEMENTCHARLOTTESOYBEANS2210
BRENT W BARNESADVANCEWHEAT2105
RODNEY D SMITH HOG & FARMPINK HILLWHEAT2097
WILTON C JR AND W CHARLES SHOOTERROWLANDWHEAT2096
BRYAN ALLEN BURLESONALBEMARLEWHEAT2081
ROCK RIDGE FARM PARTNERSHIPWILSONWHEAT2079
TLW PHELPS FARMSCOLUMBIAWHEAT2014
CROUSEDALE FARM LLCLEXINGTONDAIRY1987
THE NANCY LLOYD MASON FAMILY TRUSTDURHAMSOYBEANS1986
CHANCE S BRANTLEYMONROEWHEAT1970
BOWMAN DAIRY INCJULIANDAIRY1958
LONNIE J DENNIS IINORWOODWHEAT1953
BILLY SMITH FARMS INCENNICEDAIRY1939
MARILYN BRETZLAFF EVANSMARIONSOYBEANS1915
HOWELL FARMSPINETOWNCORN1845
DAVID A UNDERWOODALBEMARLESOYBEANS1838
STEPHEN B SECRESTLINCOLNTONWHEAT1823
TNT FARMSAHOSKIEWHEAT1814
NORTH SLOPE FARMS LLCPANTEGOWHEAT1805
JOE MANNINGMOORESVILLESOYBEANS1793
BLACKORBY FARM LLLPCARYSOYBEANS1779
COVINGTON DAIRY FARMS INCMEBANEDAIRY1777
JACKIE C GERRINGERGIBSONVILLEDAIRY1770
JUDITH L BONHAMARDENDAIRY1759
HOFFNER BROS DAIRY LLCMOUNT ULLADAIRY1759
TRIPLE M FARMS INCHOOKERTONWHEAT1756
SPRUILL FARMSROPERWHEAT1754
SHUMAKER DAIRY INCBLANCHDAIRY1732
D MARK JOHNSONSTATESVILLEDAIRY1715
JOSEPH TIM SMARTCLYDEDAIRY1711
HERBERT COLON ROBERTS IIILUMBERTONWHEAT1706
JEFF CORNWELL DAIRY INCLAWNDALEDAIRY1704
ALLEN'S DAIRY LLCASHEBORODAIRY1700
RIVER ISLAND INCMONROEWHEAT1700
PARKINS BROTHERS DAIRYCLYDEDAIRY1670
AUBREY N WELLS LIVING TRUSTLEICESTERDAIRY1653
KEVIN E LUTZLINCOLNTONDAIRY1649
EVERETTE LITTLEMARSHVILLEWHEAT1617
DONALD L THOMPSONCARYSOYBEANS1602
R B KNOWLES INCWINDSORWHEAT1540
ROY A BROCKMOUNT OLIVEWHEAT1536
FEREBEE IV PARTNERSHIPSHAWBOROCORN1530
ROBERTS FARMSLUMBERTONWHEAT1518
GILLIARD BROTHERS LLCMONROEWHEAT1504
BUFFALO CREEK DAIRY INCRURAL HALLDAIRY1498
BILLY CHARLES HELMSMONROEWHEAT1497
TUGWELL FARMS LLCFARMVILLEWHEAT1490
WILBURN WILLIAMS FAMILY FARM LLCMIDLANDHOGS1488
COY M REESETAYLORSVILLEDAIRY1480
LANDON THOMASMONROEWHEAT1479
GREGORY L HARRISPANTEGOWHEAT1471
LARRY COLEYNORWOODWHEAT1461
ERIC W BELLPANTEGOWHEAT1451
RONNIE E BLALOCK JRALBEMARLEWHEAT1447
CRAIG KING FARMS LLCTEACHEYCORN1444
LOUIS RICHARD STALLINGS IIIBELVIDEREWHEAT1431
KIM STARNESSALISBURYWHEAT1428
BOBBY AND ALVIN EVANS DAIRYSPARTADAIRY1426
WILLIAM REX BELLSTATESVILLEWHEAT1419
HARRIS FARMS INCROPERWHEAT1416
LINDA SPEARCRESWELLWHEAT1414
ARCHIE R SPEARCRESWELLWHEAT1414
BLACKWELDER FARMSMOCKSVILLEDAIRY1410
B & B FARMS OF PUNGO INCPANTEGOWHEAT1400
DOUBLE DEE FARMS INCCOLUMBIAWHEAT1392
BRILEY & BRILEY FARMS INCSTOKESWHEAT1376
MALLORY BUCKGATESWHEAT1374
DOGWOOD FARMS NC LLCALBEMARLEWHEAT1372
WILLIAM ARTHUR WILLIAMSEAGLE SPRINGSWHEAT1366
SPENCER HERITAGE FARMSSWANQUARTERWHEAT1364
DAVID P SPRINKLEHIDDENITEDAIRY1339
MICHAEL W BISHOPPANTEGOWHEAT1339
WALLACE FARMS INCROSE HILLWHEAT1322
ROBERT CURRIN FARMS LLCLILLINGTONWHEAT1321
NBE FARMS INCPINETOWNWHEAT1314
BIG BEAR CREEK FARMS INCALBEMARLEWHEAT1314
FOXFIRE FARMS INCPINETOWNWHEAT1313
R W JAMES & SONS LLCROBERSONVILLEWHEAT1312
JOHN N LEATHERMANLINCOLNTONWHEAT1294
KILLEBECK FARMS INCBATHWHEAT1267
BG CAROWAN FARMS LLCPANTEGOWHEAT1265
STARLEY STELLBATHSOYBEANS1261
LAWRENCE BROTHERS FARMS LLCCREEDMOORWHEAT1260
DOROTHY E FENDERSPARTADAIRY1259
ROBANA FARM LLCLEXINGTONWHEAT1233
MARK A THOMASPEACHLANDWHEAT1233
WILLIAMS DAIRY INCLIBERTYDAIRY1230
WIGGS BROTHERS FARMING INCSELMAWHEAT1221
SUNNYBROOK FARM INCRICHFIELDWHEAT1221
STEPHEN R POOLE JRBELHAVENWHEAT1219
DANNY VENDRICKLUMBERTONWHEAT1211
WILLIAM F SPIVEY JRSANFORDWHEAT1207
BRANDON HILLNASHVILLEHOGS1200
CHARLES F MEDFORDWAYNESVILLEDAIRY1199
WILTON SHOOTER & SNS FMS INCROWLANDWHEAT1192
ROBERT LEONARD LAWHONCARTHAGEWHEAT1190
DAVID LEWIS WHITMANKENANSVILLEHOGS1184
PATRICK T PURCELLHILLSBOROUGHDAIRY1143
RONNIE L STEWARTSTONY POINTDAIRY1133
HAROLD SIMPSONMARSHVILLEWHEAT1133
JOHN HOWARD LOCKLEAR JRROWLANDWHEAT1131
P AND P CATTLE COMPANYCLEVELANDDAIRY1124
FLOYD PIKEELIZABETH CITYWHEAT1113
ISLEY FARMS INCREIDSVILLEWHEAT1112
JAMES KEVIN KNIGHTMADISONWHEAT1082
SMITHSON FARMS INCSHAWBOROCORN1076
CLIFTON G HUTCHISONTRAPHILLDAIRY1075
LANITA K BROWNCHARLOTTESOYBEANS1066
LONG MEADOW FARM LLCLINWOODDAIRY1064
FOX BRANCH FARMS LLCOAKBOROWHEAT1054
AUGUST J PLOZIZKAHARKERS ISLANDSOYBEANS1050
TURLINGTON FARMS LLCCOATSWHEAT1050
THE CANNON CORPORATIONAYDENWHEAT1044
DONNIE M BROOKSALBEMARLEWHEAT1043
OWEN L PEELEAURORAWHEAT1041
JOINES HOLSTEINSSPARTADAIRY1036
DOUGLAS E PURSERMONROEWHEAT1036
NOTLA FARMS LLCMURPHYDAIRY1033
DUPREE FARMS LLCANGIERWHEAT1028
RED OAK FARMSHURDLE MILLSWHEAT1001
DOUGLAS WAYNE HARKEYMOUNT PLEASANTSORGHUM997
PING JOINT FAMILY REVOCABLE TRUSTMOORESVILLESOYBEANS986
BASS FAMILY FARMS LLCLUCAMAWHEAT984
CROTTS FAMILY FARM INCMOCKSVILLEWHEAT976
EVERGREEN DAIRYKANNAPOLISCOTTON969
BRIAN R BAYLORCONCORDSOYBEANS964
NEWSOME FARMSWINTONWHEAT963
JAMES A DOBSON JRSTATESVILLEDAIRY955
PEGGY H HOWELLPRINCETONWHEAT953
DANNY KAYE HOWELL JRPRINCETONWHEAT953
RICHARD W SMITHLOCUSTWHEAT952
KAREN CONLONWAKE FORESTSOYBEANS951
PITTMAN BROTHERS FARMWILSONWHEAT930
DAVID L BUNTING JRELM CITYWHEAT928
ANN FEWINCHARLOTTEWHEAT928
BRUCE D WARRENFAISONWHEAT913
ROBERT L JONES JRJACKSONWHEAT899
KENNETH D STEGALLMARSHVILLEWHEAT893
MERI-RE-MI CORPBELHAVENWHEAT892
H & H FARMSCOMOWHEAT890
SHARON STAEBLERCLAYTONSOYBEANS889
GRANT S HIBLERWINTERVILLESOYBEANS889
HAPPY HILL FARM INCMOORESVILLEDAIRY876
WILTON SHOOTER & SNS FMS INCROWLANDCORN870
LIBERTY HALL FARMS LLCWINDSORWHEAT868
DAVID BUNTING & SONS INCELM CITYWHEAT864
WEEKS & WEEKSDUNNCORN862
ALBEMARLE BEACH FARMS INCEDENTONWHEAT859
TIMOTHY P SHUEROCKWELLWHEAT856
J ROLAND WOOD FARMS INCBENSONWHEAT848
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DOUBLE DEE FARMS INCCOLUMBIACORN842
D J BYERLYKERNERSVILLEWHEAT838
C E MCSWAIN AND SONS INCNORWOODWHEAT835
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DONN A GRONINGERROCKY MOUNTWHEAT804
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H & C SEYMOUR FARMS INCKINSTONWHEAT743
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L BROOKS PEEDINSELMAWHEAT712
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KEZIAH FARMSMONROEWHEAT650
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BRINKLEY FARMS INCAULANDERCORN643
MR CHARLES RAPHAEL TYNER JRMURFREESBOROWHEAT630
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SINK'S HAPPY HILL FARM LLCLEXINGTONWHEAT596
RICHARD G SEARSFUQUAY VARINAWHEAT596
BRENT RIGGS FARMSMAYSVILLEWHEAT595
TONY PURSERMONROEWHEAT589
GRANT F ANDREWSMOUNT GILEADWHEAT586
NORTH SLOPE FARMS LLCPANTEGOCORN584
WILBURN WILLIAMS FAMILY FARM LLCMIDLANDWHEAT573
DANNY BULLARDPEMBROKECORN570
SHOOTER FARMS INCROWLANDWHEAT562
STEPHANIE YVONNE DUNN LANGLEYSTALEYDAIRY560
DENNIS C LOFLINDENTONWHEAT560
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RIVER ISLAND INCMONROEDAIRY547
JOHNNIE A WHITLEYZEBULONWHEAT545
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JASON RICEBAYBOROWHEAT527
MARY ANN ICENHOURTAYLORSVILLEWHEAT523
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STANTON LASSITERFOUR OAKSWHEAT482
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WM R DEVINE JRSHELBYWHEAT424
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T M WESTMORELAND & SONSHUNTERSVILLEWHEAT406
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VAN LEAIRDLILLINGTONSORGHUM384
MARTIN K MCLEODCARTHAGEWHEAT382
JOHN TIMOTHY HUGHESSMITHFIELDWHEAT381
NICHOLSON FARMSSANFORDWHEAT380
S WARREN MEADS FAMILY FARM INCELIZABETH CITYCORN379
RICHARD K TUCKER DBA HTH FARMSMARSHVILLECORN377
MARION GILL MARKHAMELIZABETH CITYWHEAT376
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BLACKWELDER FARMSMOCKSVILLEWHEAT368
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Commentary

Editorial: What Rep. David Lewis ought to be saying about Voter ID and next week’s legislative session

Rep. David Lewis

Be sure to check out the lead editorial on WRAL.com this morning (“Legislative leadership needs to heed ‘new sheriff’ in town”), which explains why GOP leaders at the General Assembly ought to be paying attention to recent election results. In particular, the editorial offers this very specific recommendation to the Republican House majority’s lead voter suppression champion, Rep. David Lewis:

Among the topics likely to come up during the session is implementation of the recently approved state Constitutional Amendment to require photo identification when citizens vote. Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, told a reporter what he expects his new law will include. He indicated it will be much like a failed 2013 voter ID law.

North Carolina citizens voted in favor of a picture voter ID. They DID NOT vote for a half-baked, quickly passed law that will do more to generate court challenges and legal fees than assure fair elections.

If Lewis wasn’t so tone-deaf to voters’ wishes, he should have said this:

“This is an important change. We’re not going to rush into it. We can use this short session to work WITH Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrats in the legislature and the citizens of North Carolina.

“We need an orderly process. We should hear from election law experts, local election officials who will implement the new requirements and North Carolina’s voters.

“We can go around the state, hold hearings and gather information on the challenges and best ways to implement this. During the long session we’ll have more information and time to be better able to put together a law that, I hope, works to make sure our elections are fair and NO ONE is denied their right to vote.”

That’s what Lewis and his fellow legislative leaders should do. It is what North Carolina voters just 14 days ago said they want them to do.

Will it be more of the same from Berger and Moore? We will know next week.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

1 of ‘Alamance 12’ questions NC voter suppression, sheds light on own experience

Keith Sellars is considered one of the “Alamance 12” — the 12 people, nine of whom are Black, who were prosecuted for illegally voting in the 2016 election while on parole.

Sellars, who lives in Haw River, wrote an editorial that recently that appeared in The Herald Sun explaining his life experiences and asking why politicians would want to suppress his vote.

One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands. These experiences led me to want to get involved in the political process.

I voted in the 2008 and 2012 elections. I had trouble with the law again after that, but I was committed to turning my life around. I decided to practice my right to vote once again in 2016. I was told that I could and that I should, because it was the most important election of my life. I didn’t realize at the moment that I would be targeted, prosecuted, and threatened with yet another felony — and two years in prison — for exercising that right.

For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same. I’ve suffered severe consequences to exercise my right to vote. Is it because politicians are afraid of poor and working people like me actually having a say in how we run things?

Sellars was one of five people from the “Alamance 12” who took a plea deal to lesser charges than felony voter fraud.

As part of the deals, Alamance County prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges for the five voters, who were represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Sellars and the other four individuals each pleaded instead to a charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

The were sentenced to 24 hours of community service and 12 months of unsupervised probation. You can read Sellars’ full column here.

Education, News

With N.C. reading initiative a bust, experts have tips for boosting childhood literacy

With a new N.C. State University study offering a particularly bleak assessment of North Carolina’s efforts to boost childhood literacy, experts are offering tips for parents to do their part in getting past the state’s Read to Achieve doldrums.

That study found no discernible impact from six years, and about $150 million in spending, on the Read to Achieve program, an initiative championed by Republican lawmakers and state Senate President Phil Berger.

The program hinges on early-grade testing and reading interventions for lagging children, but has been a target of some critics who say it contributes to over-testing in the early grades.

Facing the study’s grim findings, The Charlotte Observer‘s Ann Doss Helms offered up a report Monday that delves into the troubling findings for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), the state’s second-largest public school system, and some recommendations for parents to help improve student performance outside of the classroom.

From The Charlotte Observer:

Munro Richardson was dismayed but hardly shocked to hear that a recent N.C. State University study found no benefit from the state’s Read to Achieve program.

Hired three years ago to lead Read Charlotte, a private push to boost third-grade reading, he had watched state and local test scores sag despite massive efforts from the state and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. When the most recent report came out in September, only 46 percent of third-graders in CMS and 45 percent statewide earned scores that indicate they’re on track to succeed in college and careers. Only about one-third of black, Hispanic and low-income children hit that mark.

Richardson took his own deep dive into reading test scores, comparing five years of results for 107 CMS elementary schools and six Charlotte-area charter schools.

“The picture that emerges is not one of lower poverty schools doing better than higher poverty schools,” Richardson wrote in an email to the Observer. “Or of charter schools doing better than CMS schools. The overall trend for ALL SCHOOLS is headed in the wrong direction. … For the most part the picture is grim.”

That doesn’t mean Richardson and his donors are giving up. Instead, Richardson said, they’ve spent the past three years combing research for strategies that parents and volunteers can use to make a difference — often long before children report to school.

Here are four opportunities for parents, relatives, volunteers and donors to help young children become strong readers.

1. Stop reading to children … and start reading with them.

Instead of just reading a book to a child — which, of course, isn’t really a bad thing — Read Charlotte pushes “active reading.” That means the adult asks questions about what might happen next in the story, helps children learn words by dramatizing them (“Don’t just read ‘whisper,’ actually whisper”) and talks about how the story relates to the child’s life.

Free workshops on “The ABCs of Active Reading” are available around the county; find the schedule at readcharlotte.org/active-reading. Tutors trained in active reading work with students in eight CMS elementary schools; learn more and sign up at tutorcharlotte.org/reading-mentors/.

2. Play games that build skills.

You don’t need to be a teacher or a college graduate to help children learn letters and sounds. Home Reading Helper (homereadinghelper.org) offers computer games and simple home activities that are tailored to a child’s age and reading level. For instance, a kindergartener might play “Frog’s Rhyming Machine” or “Dinosaur Field Guide,” while the parents could print out a vocabulary list and get tips on how to work more words into daily conversation.

Families can also sign up for weekly text messages suggesting additional activities, also tailored to the child’s age, at ReadCharlotte.org/text or by texting READCLT to 70138.

3. Get free books — or provide them for others.

The Charlotte area has plenty of book drives, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is now offering to send a free book each month to the home of any Mecklenburg County child younger than 5 years old. Sign up at www.smartstartofmeck.org/programs/dpil/, or get more information at dpil@smartstartofmeck.org or 704-943-9780.

Donors can also pitch in at the website; $30 covers a year’s books for one child.

4. Help budding readers get over the hump.

Some students who fail reading tests know how to read words but can’t put them together well enough to enjoy reading and keep up with grade-level work. Developing that skill, called fluency, is the focus of a program called Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies, or HELPS.

Richardson says that program, developed by N.C. State University professor John Begeny, is one of his best finds from reviewing research on what works. Many reading interventions have not been evaluated well enough to say scientifically how many children are likely to benefit, Richardson says. And of those that have, the typical program produces reading gains for three children out of 100.

HELPS improves fluency and comprehension for 35 out of 100 participants, based on rigorous comparison studies, Richardson said. The program trains teachers and tutors to read with individual students in 10- to 15-minute sessions in ways that help the students get more confident and comfortable with reading.

Read Charlotte is working with CMS to get HELPS into 11 schools this year. Volunteers, who get three hours of training and are asked to commit one hour a week, are urgently needed. Sign up at readcharlotte.org/helps.

Will this work?

None of these strategies should be expected to work miracles. Groups have handed out books, volunteers have read with kids and districts across North Carolina have cycled through reading programs for years.

State legislators have pumped more than $150 million into Read To Achieve, a program that focuses on testing third-graders and retaining those who can’t read at grade level. Five years in, they have little to show for it.

Richardson says these programs are part of a larger strategy that has to include everything from expanded public prekindergarten to better support for families.

Leora Itzhaki, principal of Montclaire Elementary, has been with CMS long enough to see lots of reading programs launched and discarded. She and her literacy facilitator, Katie Fazio, say they’re optimistic about HELPS reading because it’s so carefully researched and scripted. It’s also funded by a nonprofit organization to keep costs low, rather than marketed by a for-profit company.

Montclaire, where many of the students come from Spanish-speaking families, has 21 third-graders taking part in HELPS. On a recent morning they trooped in and out of a mobile classroom, where volunteers had them read a timed passage, check their speed and accuracy, had them re-read any sections they had trouble with, read aloud to their students and tried again to see if they had gotten faster and more accurate.

In some ways it was almost mechanical, with the adults reading from scripts, following flow charts and graphing each student’s results. But the volunteers added warm praise, dynamic reading and trips to the “prize box” for meeting goals. The children seemed to enjoy the exercise.

Montclaire won’t have data on its kids until midterm testing, but the educators and volunteers say they’re seeing results. Many of the students who used to read hesitantly and stumble over words — all the Montclaire students in the program are also English language learners — are showing that they can read aloud at a faster pace with a little coaching and practice.

“It’s very methodical and repetitive,” Fazio said, “but the kids love it, I think.”