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As early voting begins, a quarter-million more North Carolinians are registered than in 2016

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Early voting starts today and North Carolina’s steadily growing population is reflected in the latest voter registration numbers. As the 2018 general election gets underway, there are 7,049,452 individuals registered to vote — an increase of more than a quarter-million people over the same time two years ago, when there were 6,795,706 people on the rolls.

Another noteworthy development is the continuing rise of unaffiliated voters. In 2016, 39.7% of registrants were Democrats, 30.2% were Republicans and 29.7% were unaffiliated, with 0.4% registered as Libertarians.

Today, it’s 37.9% Democratic, 31.7% unaffiliated and 29.8% Republican, 0.5% Libertarian and just tiny handful registered as members of the Green and Constitution parties.

Let’s hope the rising registration numbers are paired this year with high voter turnout. As a general matter, off-year elections tend to draw less participation — especially when there is no high profile statewide race like a U.S. Senate contest to attract attention. Most non-presidential elections in recent decades have had voter turnout percentages in the low-to-mid 40’s range. The last one in which there was no Senate race (2006) had a turnout of just 36.58%.

The bottom line: Get out there and do your civic duty.

Commentary

Another state ends the death penalty and it’s past time for NC to follow suit

Last week, Washington became the 20th state to end the death penalty after its Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment is arbitrary and racially biased. If those are reasons to outlaw the death penalty, then it is surely time for the North Carolina death penalty to go.

How much more proof can you ask for that the death penalty is racist and arbitrary in our state?

More than 63 percent of North Carolina’s death 141 row prisoners are people of color, even though they make up less than 30 percent of the state population. More than two dozen of the people on death row were sentenced to die by all-white juries.

A comprehensive statistical study found that defendants who kill white victims are more likely to get the death penalty, and that across the state, African American citizens are systematically, and illegally, excluded from capital juries.

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about arbitrariness.

A new report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation shows that most of the people on N.C. death row are only there because they had the bad luck to be tried under outdated laws, before there were basic legal protections to ensure fairness at their trials. Had they been tried under modern laws, most wouldn’t be on death row today.

Watch the story of Nathan Bowie, who because there was no indigent defense agency at the time of his trial, ended up with an alcoholic lawyer who came to court drunk.

Today, after the enactment of many reforms, only a handful of people each year face capital trials. Yet, the selection of that handful remains arbitrary. It has more to do with the practices of the local DA, the county where the crime occurred, and the defendant’s willingness to accept a plea bargain than it does with the severity of the crime.

Across the country, people have become unwilling to ignore the obviousness unfairness that infects the death penalty. Last week, Washington admitted the truth about its death penalty. It’s time for North Carolina to do the same.

Kristin Collins is the Associate Director of Public Information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. This post appeared originally on the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog.

Commentary

Editorial blasts NC prison and jail conditions

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com: “Legislators fail N.C.’s prisons and local jails.” Here’s are some excerpts:

Sitting in a county jail waiting court action shouldn’t be a death sentence.

But that’s what it has been for at least 33 people in North Carolina jails in the first eight months of 2018. It is a pace that could see the 2015 record for jail inmate deaths – 40 – broken. Meeting or breaking it is no distinction or honor.

In Mecklenburg County’s jails five inmates have died in the last five months, prompting an inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The causes of death vary – often suicides, drug overdoses or other medical-related circumstances – but the failure of county jail personnel to meet required, regular checks of inmates seems to be a common thread….

The problems in local jails come on top of the shocking staffing and security problems in North Carolina’s state-run prisons. Those concerns have been connected to the deaths and injuries of prison personnel. It was a year ago that four prison workers at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution were killed in a failed prison break….

In the wake, there have been studies and recommendations. The legislature provided minor pay increases but didn’t impose a comprehensive plan or a major appropriation to address the problem in prisons and jails – it failed to provide much-needed staffing, training, equipment and facility needs. Given the needs of our prison system and jails, the $15 million appropriated for security upgrades is a token gesture

When it came to addressing problems in county jails, there just wasn’t time during the “short” legislative session this spring and summer said State Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and Public Safety. “I cannot specifically speak about why the issue was not addressed,” he told a news reporter. “We handled very little besides the budget.”

There’s no virtue in nickel-and-diming our prisons and jails. The people who work in them have important and too often dangerous jobs. They deserve far better resources and compensation that both protects their safety but keeps our prisons secure….

Assuring the safety and security of citizens is the most basic function of government. The current problems are prime examples of legislators’ failure while they focus on budget cuts and power grabs.

Commentary

Their masters speak: Now we know why conservatives are now opposing proposed constitutional amendment

As reported in this space last week, a growing group of North Carolina Republican legislators have been having a change of heart about a constitutional amendment that they voted in June and August to put on the fall ballot. The power-grabbing amendment would seize the Governor’s power to fill judicial vacancies and hand it to legislative leaders. Now we know (or, at least, can make some strong inferences) as to what’s behind the flip-flop: the Koch Brothers have spoken.

Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity — one of the most prominent political organizations in the country — is coming out against a Republican effort to limit governors’ power to appoint judges.

The group started by the billionaire Koch brothers planned to launch what it said will be a six-figure ad campaign on Monday urging people to vote against one of the six proposed constitutional amendments that the Republican-controlled General Assembly put on the November ballot.

“The amendment is nothing more than a political power grab that would grant more authority to special interests and politicians, opening the door to partisan court packing while weakening our constitutional right to select our own judges,” state director Chris McCoy said in a prepared statement. “That is bad for voters and bad for our courts.

“We’re strongly urging all North Carolinians to reject this backdoor effort that would lead to manipulation and cronyism in an institution that must remain fair, independent and impartial.”

Good for AFP. One only wishes that the Koch empire had issued its directive to GOP lawmakers a little earlier in the game as it would undoubtedly have spared us from even having to deal with the darned thing.
Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: Wake up, North Carolina!

This weekend’s best editorial comes from the Winston-Salem Journal. In “North Carolina must take climate change seriously,” the Journal calls on all of us to take immediate action in the aftermath of Hurricanes Florence and Michael:

“It’s folly to ignore solid science about climate change when warming is already having noticeable effects, as the recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made more clear than ever. Among its dire projections, we can expect more frequent major hurricanes that, like Florence, are difficult to predict and extremely wet.

It’s folly, in other words, to continue the policies adopted in 2012, when the legislature passed a law ordering state and local agencies to disregard scientific models showing expected sea-level rise when setting coastal development policies. As a result, coastal development has boomed.

North Carolina could help slow climate change by adopting progressive policies such as encouraging clean cars and alternative power sources. The state also can be smarter about planning for the probability of major storms and flooding.

The full extent of the environmental damage from Florence will be discovered as we see how badly the state’s rivers, sounds and ground water have been polluted. Once again, despite warnings and calls for reform, lagoons on industrial farms flooded or failed, releasing hog wastes. Industrial chicken farms also flooded.

Then there’s coal ash, and the slow pace at which Duke Energy and the state are moving to close storage ponds, even after the massive spill in 2014 from an old Duke plant into the Dan River at Eden. Hurricane Matthew two years ago sent toxins from a coal-ash pond near Goldsboro into the Neuse River. Florence flooded a coal-ash pond near Wilmington, and environmental groups are questioning state regulators’ assessments of the damage….

One of the most disturbing aspects of all this is that North Carolina has failed to learn lessons in the past. Hurricane Floyd stalled and rained over eastern North Carolina for days, flooding areas not in floodplains and sending millions of gallons of toxic hog waste, plus carcasses, into rivers. That was 19 years ago.

Even if we do everything possible in North Carolina, it might not be enough. Climate change is a global problem that requires a global response. Unfortunately, the current administration, by seeking to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and weakening environmental regulations, seems determined to make matters worse.

But we’ve still got to do everything we can, including voting for candidates who take the problem seriously.

Florence won’t be the last destructive hurricane to hit the state. We need to be smarter before the next time.”