NC Democrats push for common sense voting reforms

Say this much, at least, for those legislators who favor making it easier, not harder, for North Carolinians to vote: They’re not ready to surrender to their vote-suppressing foes.

Even as key Republicans in the state Senate push changes to absentee voting rules whose main purpose would be to gum up the works, a group of House Democrats is pushing the other way.

Their bill entitled “Safeguarding Voting Rights,” introduced March 31 as House Bill 446, would protect popular voting options and in general encourage citizens to have their say at the polls.

It likely has zero chance of passage in a General Assembly controlled by Republicans in sync with the party’s national effort to downsize the electorate in its favor. But it shows the kind of steps that could be taken to strengthen our state’s voting procedures if maximum participation is the goal – while highlighting the divide between those who think maximum participation works in the public interest and those who don’t.

Here’s another point that needs to be made as Republicans from the former president on down continue to raise unfounded concerns about voter fraud. Of course the provisions of HB 446 would have to be carefully vetted to avoid any compromise of election security. But there’s no reason to think that shoring up access to the polls has to pave the way for cheating, or worse, that it’s meant to do so.

We should instead recall the high standard of efficiency and honesty that the state’s elections officials managed to meet even as turnout surged during the presidential election conducted last fall amid a deadly pandemic. For those worried about “election integrity,” now a favorite Republican cause, virus-era adjustments that helped people vote safely and securely should have drawn cheers, not jeers.

HB 446 so far has 32 sponsors, all Democrats – amounting to a majority of the party’s 51 House members (vs. 69 Republicans). Its primary sponsors are Reps. Marcia Morey of Durham, Allison Dahle of Raleigh, Kandie Smith of Greenville and Amos Quick III of Greensboro. Among the bill’s notable features, it would let absentee voters submit their ballots with the signature of only one witness rather than two.

The one-witness rule was approved by the legislature as a stop-gap response to the risks posed by in-person contact during the pandemic, but it now has lapsed. There’s ample reason to extend it, even if the COVID-19 threat continues to fade. It makes absentee voting more convenient with no evidence that it facilitates fraud. A huge increase in the number of absentee voters was a significant driver of 2020’s high turnout, and no doubt many of those voters would choose that method again if didn’t pose undue hassles.

Ballot ballet

The bill would affirm that as provided under current law, voters could apply for absentee ballots as late as the Tuesday before an election, and if a ballot was submitted by mail, it would count so long as it was received by the third day after Election Day.

However, it appears to drop the requirement that ballots also must be postmarked by Election Day. That presumably is in recognition that some mail these days isn’t postmarked at all. Yet the notion that ballots might be counted even if they were mailed after voting was supposed to have ended shapes up as a red flag.

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 326, now pending, would advance the application deadline by a week and make Election Day the cutoff for receipt – essentially giving absentee voters the bum’s rush. Read more

Editorial: State lottery suffers the very fate that critics forecast

“We told you so.”

That’s the obvious assessment that critics of North Carolina’s “Education” Lottery can utter these days a decade and a half after its founding.

As today’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com explains, everyone knew the notion that lottery dollars would somehow boost education funding above where it would have been and not be used to fund tax cuts was always a fiction. And now there’s proof that this is exactly what has happened.

In the most recent budget, NO lottery funds were used for additional teaching position, but $385.9 million from the lottery was spent on “non-instructional support personnel.”

…So, at a time when there’s a huge need for additional classroom space and smaller classroom sizes – to help adhere to current pandemic health needs along with providing students with more attention from teachers to make up for in-person classroom time lost – the money is going to basic operations. That is not what lottery advocates intended. That is just what lottery critics – Berger and Moore among them – predicted would happen.

A decade ago, partisan critics called the lottery “Bev’s piggybank” because of proposals during Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration to use lottery funds to shore up battered state revenues during the Great Recession.

Now, of course, everyone involved in the state budget process is participating in this same shell game.

As the editorial goes on to note in conclusion, this situation is especially outrageous when the state is under a court order to comply with the state constitution’s mandate to provide every public school student with a sound basic education.

For nearly 25 years North Carolina has been operating public schools, the highest court in the state has ruled, in an unconstitutional matter failing to meet the promise of providing a quality education to every child.

It is past time to end the lottery shift-shaft. Put the lottery money, as promised, back into enhancing education by cutting class size, providing funding to build more school facilities, expand pre-k education to all children. Stop the corporate tax giveaways and fully fund basic education needs including the Leandro action plan – a common sense roadmap to a quality education for every child.

Click here to read “Ignoring their own warnings about the N.C. lottery.”

Religious fundamentalism threatens American public education (and a lot more)

Betsy DeVos is gone now, but for North Carolina,“Devosism,” is not. Throughout her tenure as education secretary, DeVos sought to convince Congress to allocate $5 billion in tax credits to fund scholarships to private, religious, and homeschools. These “scholarships”—vouchers—were a central theme of her time in office and, now, Rebecca Klein notes, numerous state legislatures are continuing to push this agenda into 2021. The Network for Public Education flagged efforts in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and New Hampshire to dramatically expand voucher programs. In North Carolina, the legislature moved during its first week back in session this year to expand vouchers.

Because vouchers siphon money away from cash-starved public schools, it is often assumed that this is a public school problem. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) has led the fight, along with a parents group that filed suit against the state’s voucher program, arguing it was unconstitutional.

This battle, however, is about substantially more than “choice” or even privatization, and concerns everyone in the academy—every historian, scientist, anthropologist, political scientist, theater professor, and the rest—because Betsy DeVos is the proud standard-bearer of the Christian Dominionists, part of a once-fringe set of religious extremists now at the heart of the effort to reshape American public education. DeVos and other Dominionists see the school system as the ultimate symbol of communal liberalism and want it replaced with private schools that will usher in a new kingdom of God.

Betsy DeVos

These vouchers, therefore, threaten more than colleges of education or the public schools they ostensibly serve. The curricula of many of these schools threaten American ideals of multiculturalism, democracy, and science. A study conducted by North Carolina’s League of Women Voters examined what was being taught in these voucher-funded “schools” in the state and discovered that “76.7% of voucher funding is going to schools with a literal biblical worldview that affects all areas of the curriculum…[and] educators have concluded that this biblical worldview curriculum does not prepare these students for 21st century colleges or careers.”

Indeed, the curricula seem designed to prepare students for life in the thirteenth century. Read more

The best editorial of the weekend: What wind power could do for NC (and the planet)

Photo: Getty Images

If you missed it, be sure to check out the lead weekend editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer“Strong winds off the coast could power a clean energy economy in North Carolina.” As the authors explain, it’s long past time for us to move aggressively to make use of North Carolina’s plentiful offshore winds to create sustainable energy and good jobs.

This from the editorial:

Building offshore wind turbines would help slow climate change and would also decrease environmental damage by reducing the dirty process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels. Just last August, a pipeline breach spilled about 1.2 million gallons of gasoline near Huntersville. Duke Energy customers will be paying for years to help clean out the utility’s coal ash pits.

…Beyond its environmental benefits, wind power could also bring strong economic gains not only in construction and maintenance, but in manufacturing of turbines. The Department of Commerce report said North Carolina’s manufacturing sector could develop coastal factories to make wind turbine towers and blades that are so large they can only be transported by water.

“Wind energy means new jobs for North Carolinians,” said Machelle Sanders, North Carolina’s commerce secretary. “Just like biotechnology was for us many years ago, today clean energy represents an industry of the future and North Carolina always embraces the future.”

And happily, the Biden administrations is fully on board with such a plan. Last week, it unveiled an ambitious plan to dramatically ramp up the nation’s development of offshore wind energy.
Of course, no solution is perfect and wind energy development won’t come without foul-ups and negative impacts, it’s a vastly superior to the Trump administration’s horrific idea of filling the east coast with offshore oil platforms. Again, here’s the N&O:
There are also legitimate concerns about how building and operating the massive offshore turbines could affect the fishing industry, wildlife, military flights and tourism. These concerns should be addressed in consultation with stakeholders.
Though not yet a sure thing for North Carolina, wind power is much closer to becoming one. There’s no doubt about where the pursuit of more clean energy should go next. Go where the wind blows.
Click here to read the entire editorial.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: After COVID confinement, chemistry is a bit off

Last night, I was maybe 18 minutes into what could best be described as a speech to a friend who is also fully vaccinated.

Thinking back on it, she honestly didn’t seem that into what I was saying for the last 17 minutes or so. I cared not. When you’re finally able to talk in person to a friend for the first time in 13 months, well, you forget your manners.

Did I detect a pained look when I interrupted her by holding up my hand? Was she so bored she was thinking about chewing her own flesh so she could slowly disappear? Hmmmm.

The subject, since you ask (you were going to, right?), was my new hot tub. But that was just the first minute. The other 17 minutes, now that I’m thinking about it honestly in the cold, caffeinated light of day were spent on the sexy subsection: “Hot tub chemistry.”

Wait. It’s soooo much more interesting than you think. To hear about it. Unendingly. Because after more than a year of not speaking in person to hardly anyone besides the supermarket cashier, I’ve forgotten the basics of polite conversation.

“And then, here’s the tricky part because you want to make sure your pH is perfect because if it’s not, no amount of sanitizer—chlorine, bromine, minerals or what have you—will work properly. Let me give you an example…”

At the end of our visit, I was pretty pleased with how much I had taught my friend about hot tub chemistry even though she lives in an apartment and most likely has no immediate need for this information.

I’m not completely rude. I also shared with her the importance of chair socks, which I discovered in Month 2 of pandemic isolation and have frequently blogged about but, oddly, have had no feedback whatsoever. I guess some people don’t mind if their hardwood floors are scratched by unsocked chair legs. Savages.

Over the past 13 months, I realized the way I greeted my husband (who has worked out in the world in his very same office the entire time!) was exactly how it was when The Princess was a newborn. I plugged into him like a dying cell phone seeking news “from the outside.” Where adults interacted and did adulty things like talk about “action items” and “lunch.”

Back then, it was almost endearing how I hung on his every word. Now, with only two morbidly obese cats as my all-day companions instead of an adorable infant, I just seem, well, pathetic.

“And then what did he say?” I asked.

“Who?”

“I don’t care. ANYBODY!!!!!”

Because I only went to the grocery store for most of my confinement, I may have seemed needy to certain store personnel.

“Huh. Paper or plastic, you ask? I dunno. What do you think? I mean both have their advantages and disadvantages, am I right? Hey! Let me tell you about algaecide because, if you ever get a hot tub, you’re going to need…”

Oh, if only I were making up that conversation.

Fast forward to our first fully vaccinated, masked and socially distanced restaurant visit last weekend. Fun fact: I no longer know how to behave in public, period. I’ll have the scallops. No! The flounder. No, the ribeye….No,no,no,no…how about the halibut? Why? For the halibut—get it? Hahahahahaha!” Did Duh just duck under the table?!? I changed my drink order THREE times.

A word of warning: As we all venture out into the world again, carefully and vaccinatedly, we may stumble when trying to navigate, well, simple conversation. We can’t help it. We’re just so tail-waggin’ happy to be able to talk to someone that doesn’t poo in a box behind the washer.

And another warning: If you DO decide to install a hot tub, you’re going to want to keep a close eye on that Cyanuric Acid. Trust me on that.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].