Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Republican senator to critic of GOP’s controversial voting reforms: “Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Johnson, Nash, Wilson

“Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

A Republican North Carolina senator had this to say in an email late Thursday to one woman’s criticism of surprise, GOP-led voting reforms unveiled at the legislature this week.

On Friday, Policy Watch obtained a copy of the terse email exchange, in which Sen. Rick Horner, a one-term Republican who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, took a Raleigh woman to task.

Horner was firing back at Joanne Rohde of Raleigh, who blasted GOP legislators for their efforts to overhaul early voting and voter ID laws late in the short session.

Rohde is not one of Horner’s constituents, but her email—which was timestamped at 10:59 p.m. Thursday—was directed to all of the state’s Senators. Horner’s reply was sent at 11:06 p.m. Thursday.

From Rohde’s email:

Our State Legislature is the poster child of hollowing out Democracy from within.  Shame on those of you promoting legislation that thwarts the intent of the Supreme Court ruling.  Shame on those of you limiting our basic right to vote.  Shame for sneaking around in the middle of the night changing laws without public discourse.

You think no one is watching, or no one cares; or maybe you just think [you’re] untouchable.  But you’re wrong.  Not only will I cast my vote against those working against our democratic principles, but I will spend my weekends knocking on doors and making calls to make sure that as many citizens as possible know what you’re doing.  And I assure you, I’m not alone.

It appears the lawmaker copied all of his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, on the response. It’s unclear whether that was intentional or unintentional.

Horner couldn’t be immediately reached for an interview Friday afternoon.

Voting rights advocates are fired up over new Republican proposals to nix a major early voting day and revive voter ID requirements.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the voter ID bill Monday, which would put it to voters to decide whether the state requires mandatory photo IDs at the polls, an idea that’s been widely denounced for its potential impact on minority voters.

Two years ago, a federal court shot down the GOP’s 2013 voter ID law, writing that it targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”

The new legislation is awaiting review in a House elections committee.

Meanwhile, GOP legislators in the House gutted a 2017 tax cut bill from the Senate this week, reintroducing the measure as “The Uniform & Expanded Early Voting Act.”

The bill’s sparked fierce criticism because it would do away with early voting on the Saturday before Election Day, a particularly popular day.

The legislation swept through the state House Thursday and Friday amid often bitter debate. After its approval Friday morning, state Senate lawmakers placed it on their calendar for a possible vote Friday.

[Update: The Senate approved the House-amended bill Friday afternoon. Horner voted to approve the proposal. It’s now bound for Gov. Roy Cooper.]

Commentary, Voting

Unlike North Carolina, some states are making voter participation easier instead of suppressing it

Most of the voting rights news lately has not been very encouraging. State legislative leaders are promising to bring up another photo ID bill in one of the series of special legislative sessions likely to be held this summer and fall.

The last effort at enacting a photo ID requirement was part of the massive voter suppression law struck down by federal courts who said it targeted minority voters with “surgical precision.”

Things are even scarier in Washington, where President Trump’s absurd election commission held its first meeting this week with its vice-chairman Kris Kobach from Kansas refusing to admit that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election.

The meeting’s coda was an MSNBC television interview in which Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican who is the panel’s vice chairman and de facto head, was asked, “Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three to five million votes because of voter fraud?” He replied: “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.”

But some states are not playing the dangerous voter suppression game. In fact, the Governor of Rhode Island this week signed legislation that automatically registers people to vote when they are getting a driver’s license or renewing one, unless they choose to opt out.

Steve Benen over at the Rachel Maddow Blog points out that the signature means nine states now have automatic registration and Illinois will soon become the 10th.

Not too long ago there was a consensus that the more people who participated in the Democratic process the better. The folks on the Right don’t think so anymore. Sadly, now their goal is to keep putting barriers to voting in front of people who are not likely to support them.

Environment, News, Voting

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Is North Carolina stuck in an abusive relationship?
Behavior of state leaders, state policy community raise warning flags

The last seven years in North Carolina politics and policy have been extraordinary. In a very short period of time, a once moderate state has been transformed into a kind of laboratory for far right policies and a testing ground for what we are coming to know now as Trumpism. On issue after issue, state legislative leaders have aggressively pursued an ultra-conservative agenda that seeks to radically remake the state’s social contract.

What’s more, this has not been a happy or buoyant transformation. Rather than being predicated on a positive or hopeful new vision of society, the conservative revolution in North Carolina has mostly been a counter-revolution. Even today, a point at which they enjoy veto-proof majorities and can realistically contemplate an entire decade in power, conservative legislative leaders premise most of their actions and policies more on an angry rejection of past supposed transgressions by Democrats than a coherent articulation of what they want to build. [Read more….]

2. School districts prepare for another year of class size controversy

When North Carolina legislators pushed through their $23 billion budget plan in June, it included one key, last-minute insertion in a separate technical corrections bill.

State lawmakers wrote that it’s their “intent” to use data collected this year from school districts to fund a new allotment for arts and physical education teachers beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

Given the well-documented consternation this year over a public school funding crisis spurred by lawmakers’ demands that schools reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, it’s an important, albeit tentative, promise. [Read more….]

3. Unlikely bedfellows rally to oppose seismic air gun testing, offshore drilling near the North Carolina coast

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas. [Read more…]

*** Editor’s note to the above story: The National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the public comment period on seismic testing to July 21.

4. Gerrymandering, the courts and the next election in North Carolina: All of your burning questions answered

It’s been a little over a month since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 state North Carolina House and Senate districts were racially gerrymandered but lawmakers have yet to draw new maps.

In the last month, there’s been some back-and-forth in the courts over North Carolina v. Covington, numerous headlines about the case and several rallies calling for immediate action from the legislature.

The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel will oversee the redrawing of the illegally gerrymandered maps and decide whether special elections before the regularly scheduled 2018 elections will be a proper remedy for the constitutional violations at hand.  [Read more…]

*** Bonus infographic:  Download our special timeline on gerrymandering in North Carolina
*** Bonus read: Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

5. NC’s response to opioid crisis is too little, too late says lawmaker with personal expertise

Opioid overdoses took 1,200 lives in North Carolina last year – part of an 800 percent increase since 1999 whose body count has now surpassed 12,000.

So when lawmakers approved the final state budget late last month, many expected the bipartisan concern would lead to significant funding to combat the opiate problem.

But while the budget did improve funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services, it was well under what Gov. Roy Cooper called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

N.C. Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) said she was disappointed – but not necessarily surprised. [Read more…]

News, Voting

Targeting of left-leaning cities continues with Asheville

A bill to change the way Asheville elects its city council members passed the Senate Wednesday, echoing changes handed down from Raleigh in other politically left-leaning cities.

You may remember a federal court recently struck down the General Assembly’s forced redistricting of the city of Greensboro.

The Asheville and Greensboro redistricting aren’t identical. But there are some interesting similarities:

* In both cases, the redistricting is opposed by the existing city council, elected by the actual citizens of each city.

* In both cases, the General Assembly rejected the idea of first holding a referendum in the city to decide on the redistricting to discern the actual will of the people there.

* Both redistricting plans would reduce the number and influence of council members elected at-large or by the entire city. In both cities, at-large seats tend to go to left-leaning candidates as the number of Democrats outstrips the number of Republicans.

Whether the Asheville redistricting will be successfully challenged in court remains to be seen. But it’s the latest example in what has become a well-established pattern of the Republican majority in Raleigh targeting the governments of cities with enduring Democratic majorities.

News, Voting

Voting rights group: Investigate McCrory’s false “voter fraud” claims

Voter rights group Democracy NC is calling for a state and federal criminal investigation into false claims of voter fraud made by former governor Pat McCrory campaign during last year’s bruising gubernatorial contest.

You may remember the false accusations the surfaced after McCrory narrowly lost to Roy Cooper. McCrory, a Republican, contested the election results and dragged out the process even as GOP majorities on the State Board of Election and county election boards across the state rejected his claims of fraud.

Now Democracy NC is releasing an 16-page report on the McCrory campaign’s accusations, the people wrongfully accused of voter fraud and the “wrongdoing related to preparing, filing and promoting bogus charges of voter fraud.”

The report, the result of a five-month investigation, will be released at a press conference at 1 p.m. today outside the State Board of Elections office in Raleigh.

We’ll have more on the report after its release this afternoon.