Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Committee to consider ‘various changes related to election laws’

UPDATE: This committee meeting was cancelled at the last minute.

Rumors about a new voter identification measure have been swirling around the legislature for some time, and if it comes out at any point this session, it will likely be today.

House members on the Elections and Ethics Law Committee are set to meet today at 10:15 a.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building to vote on an elections measure that will replace Senate Bill 486, the Uniform Voting Hours Act.

A proposed committee substitute, titled “An act to make various changes related to election laws” was unveiled late Tuesday night but has not yet been made available online. Committee members were directed in an email to submit any potential amendments to the PCS by the end of business yesterday.

The PCS, posted below, seeks to add several election security measures proposed by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, including criminal record checks for current, temporary and prospective employees.

The bill prohibits losing primary election candidates from being on the general election ballot as a candidate for a new political party.

It also sets out some instruction for judicial elections, since the judicial primaries were cancelled this year. Voters will read the following on the ballot before seeing a list of judicial candidates: “No primaries for judicial office were held in 2018. The information listed by each of the following candidates’ names indicates only the candidates’ party affiliation or unaffiliated status on their voter registration at the time they filed to run for office.”

You can see other changes below:

The new SB486 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Winning and losing: a tale of two campaign finance reports

Wayne Sasser

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) may have had more money on hand during the first financial quarter this year, but his primary election challenger, Wayne Sasser, spent more and received more from individuals in his winning campaign for a legislative seat.

Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of this year were released earlier this month by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Burr started with $22,591.88 and Sasser with $6,909.70, according to each of their finance filings.

The losing incumbent received $49,462.18 in contributions; $23,750 came from political committees, $25,192.18 came from individuals and $520 was reported as aggregated contributions from individuals.

Justin Burr

His biggest individual donor was an optometrist named Stephen Bolick from Raleigh, who made an in-kind donation of $1,647.18 for the cost of a fundraiser dinner. North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association PAC was Burr’s biggest political donation at $5,000.

Sasser received $75,137.91 in contributions, although $20,000 was recorded as a loan from himself. Individuals donated $46,267.81 to his campaign and aggregated individual contributions were $1,960.40. He did not receive any donations from political committees.

His biggest contributions were from Evon Jordan and Jerry Jordan, both from Oakboro, of Jordan Trucking, according to the financial paperwork.

Sasser spent $54,171.40 compared to Burr’s $35,077.19 during the first quarter, according to their filings. Both of their biggest expenditures were mailers — Sasser spent just over $37,000 and Burr spent just over $27,600.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints new judges to the state bench

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed six new judges to the state bench — one to Superior Court and five to District Court.

Each of the appointees are replacing judges who retired or who were appointed to other judgeships.

“Superior and District Court judges are so important to our justice system and hear cases critical to their communities every day,” Cooper stated in a news release. “These appointees bring strong experience to the bench and I believe they will serve the people of our state well.”

He appointed Judge William “Bill” Wood to the Superior Court bench in Guilford County to replace Judge Lindsay Davis, who retired earlier this year.

Wood has served as an assistant district attorney in Guilford County for nearly thirty years, where he has specialized in prosecuting violent crimes, according to Cooper’s office.

Cooper appointed Judge Keith Mason to the District Court serving Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties. He is replacing Judge Michael Paul, who retired earlier this year.

Mason served as an attorney in private practice for more than 25 years and previously served as an assistant district attorney in the same counties he was appointed to as a judge.

Judge Sophia Gatewood Crawford was appointed as a district court judge serving Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Hoke counties. She is replacing Judge Lisa Thacker, who retired earlier this year, according to Cooper’s Office.

Gatewood previously served as a trial attorney in private practice for 17 years and as a senior assistant district attorney.

Cooper appointed Marcus Shields as a District Court judge serving Guilford County — he replaces Judge Avery Crump, who retired earlier this year.

Shields served as an attorney in private practice, as an attorney for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and as an assistant public defender. He has also served as an adjunct professor of law at Elon University School of Law.

Cooper appointed Faith Fickling as a District Court judge serving Mecklenburg County. She is replacing Judge Donnie Hoover, who was recently appointed to a Superior Court judgeship.

Fickling served as an attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina for nearly 12 years and previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar.

Roy Wiggins was appointed as a District Court judge in Mecklenburg County. He is replacing Judge Karen Eady-Williams, who was recently appointed to Superior Court judgeship.

Wiggins served as an attorney in private practice for over 20 years and previously as an assistant district attorney.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Poll: North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over appointment process

Image courtesy of High Point University Survey Research Center

A new poll shows that the majority of North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over any sort of appointment process.

The High Point University Survey Research Center and Department of Criminal Justice conducted a statewide poll and analysis on residents’ level of awareness and support for potential changes to the way the state appoints judges.

Lawmakers have been considering plans for judicial redistricting and various merit selection plans — either of which would significantly change the way judges are elected. The short session began Wednesday and it is expected such changes could be put up for a vote.

The poll — which surveyed 513 adults between Feb. 19 and 25 — found that 49 percent of participants were unaware that lawmakers were considering changing the way it appoints judges from direct elections to appointment by the governor or the General Assembly.

A total of 47 percent of respondents had some level of awareness, including 11 percent who said they were highly aware, 16 percent moderately aware and 20 percent slightly aware.

A 75 percent majority strongly prefer to directly elect judges, while 8 percent prefer appointment by the governor and 10 percent prefer appointment by the General Assembly.

“We found that almost half of the registered voters we surveyed were aware of the issue,” said Bobby Little, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. “In our analysis, we didn’t find any similarities in the demographics of those who prefer to keep judge appointments election-based. They represented a wide variety of people across the board.”

Little and Thomas Dearden, assistant professor of criminal justice, analyzed and recently produced a preliminary report about their findings, which they plan to submit for publication.

“This study made sense for our department as judges are an integral part of the criminal justice system,” Little said. “Judges are critical to the outcomes of justice, and we hope these results are of value to the general public who may or may not be familiar with this conversation.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

McCrory Legal Defense Fund pays $25,000 to lawyers defending defamation suit

The McCrory Legal Defense Fund has paid at least $25,000 in attorneys fees thus far to a law firm defending a defamation suit involving voters who were falsely accused of election fraud.

The total was reported as an operating expense to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in a recent political committee disclosure report. It was paid on Jan. 10 to Raleigh law firm Blanchard, Miller, Lewis & Isley, according to the report.

Philip Isley represents the McCrory Legal Defense Fund in a class-action lawsuit that was filed after the last gubernatorial election.

Fifty-three election protests claiming voter fraud were filed across the state in the wake of that election — most, if not all, by Republicans defending former Gov. Pat McCrory after he refused to concede the race to current Gov. Roy Cooper. The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections ultimately dismissed all the protests.

It was revealed after some of the protests were challenged that those Republicans were supplied information to file the protests by attorneys with the McCrory Legal Defense Fund, which had hired the Holtzman Vogel law firm in Virginia. Both the Defense Fund and the Vogel law firm are accused of conspiring to undermine the results of the election.

Isley was in court in April to try to have the lawsuit — which was filed by four retiree voters, three from Guilford County and one from Brunswick — dismissed.

The Defense Fund was established by the Pat McCrory Committee while the former Governor was still fighting his loss. North Carolinians were solicited for donations to help make sure all votes were counted in the election. The website is still up and appears to still take donations.

The Defense Fund also reported paying $2,400 in software fees to Aristotle, Inc., a company located in Washington D.C. that provides political technology and solutions to grassroots organizations, public affairs councils (PACs) and political campaigns in the United States and abroad.

Other expenses reported include more than $11,000 paid in taxes to the IRS and the North Carolina Department of Revenue. The group has $69,552.28 “cash on hand” for this reporting period and $83,732.44 total this election.