Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why a Polling Place in the ASU Student Union?

Aceto & Eggers. Photo by Lonnie Webster
Below is minority member of the Watauga Board of Elections Kathleen Campbell's prepared statement that she delivered last night, shortly before Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto voted to prove that they are seeking partisan advantage by making it difficult for ASU students to vote.

One might think that the local GOP would begin developing a strategy for winning the hearts and minds of college students, rather than communicating hostility toward that age group. Is there any wonder why 18-25 year-olds don't flock to the Republican banner?

Everything said for public consumption by GOP leaders, including what Bill Aceto said at last night's Board of Elections meeting and especially what gets written on the Watauga Conservative, acknowledges that additional barriers have indeed been set up to discourage college student voting. That acknowledgement comes with the repeated statement that students shouldn't mind a few extra blocks to walk. They were singled out for a longer hike. That is the indisputable fact, and I believe most college-age voters totally get the purpose of that.

Campbell's statement:

Tonight I am proposing two things, one about early voting and one about election-day voting. I am presenting them together because they are related. Both are necessary to avoid abridging the rights of citizens to equal and fair voting opportunities, especially those voters who are 18 – 21 years old. The 26th Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits such an abridgement of this specific group of voters.
I am proposing:
1. An early voting plan that will put an early voting site on the campus of ASU in the Linville Falls Room of the Student Union Building.
2. Moving the election-day polling place for the Boone #2 Precinct, one of the two precincts that serve the campus and the only precinct located on campus, from the Legends nightclub to the Linville Falls Room at the Student Union.
The importance of these two proposals becomes clearer when you consider the following facts:
· The enrollment of ASU constitutes almost 34% of the total population of Watauga County and an even greater number of the voting population. No other county even comes close to a college population with that large a share of the county population. Jackson County, with WCU, comes closest at just under 25%.
· The ASU community consists largely of people between the ages of 18-21. As we have all discussed before, this age group in particular has demanding class schedules and remote access to cars if any access at all.
· While some students maintain their voter registration outside Watauga County, they have a right recognized in State and federal law to register and vote in Watauga, where they make their home during the time they are in college. A large number have done so. In fact, a full 13% of Watauga’s registered voters is 18-21 years old, lives in dorms on ASU’s campus, and 100% of them live in the Boone 2 and Boone 3 precincts, which together encompass the campus. A larger percentage could do so if they wanted.
· Because of their difficulties with transportation, students at ASU in the past have chosen to cast early ballots. Also because of their transportation challenges, students have voted provisional ballots on Election Day outside their precincts at the ASU polling location. This is particularly true for students living on the west side of campus, whose Boone 3 Election Day polling location is at the Agricultural Conference Center, at least a 20 minute one-way walk along rough roads with no shoulders.
· In 2013, the General Assembly severely limited two methods that students found helpful in overcoming their difficulties voting. The legislators removed the first week from the early voting period, squeezing the time to early-vote into about two weeks. And, except for voters with unreported moves, the legislators prohibited the counting of all out-of-precinct provisional and/or transfer ballots on Election Day. A lawsuit in federal court, filed by students outside Watauga, is challenging both those legislative actions as unconstitutional to the rights of young voters and a violation of the 26th Amendment.
· In the wake of these losses of early voting opportunities and out-of-precinct provisional/transfer voting, one would expect County boards of elections to find ways to accommodate the needs that caused student voters to utilize those methods. The boards could put early voting sites and precinct polling places in more accessible places. Some county boards of elections in counties with large campuses have, if not making things better, at least not making them worse. But inexplicably, in Watauga, which has by far the highest percentage of campus enrollment to voting age population in the State, we have gone in the opposite direction.
· Over the expressed needs of over 30% of our registered voters, and in spite of the fact that over 17,000 students, faculty and staff work and/or study on ASU’s campus, our Board proposed an early voting plan that would no longer include an early voting site on campus. We took away the ASU Student Union site in 2013, a site where more voters per hour cast ballots than at any other early voting site in 2009.
· As a result of eliminating ASU’s early voting site, we saw an astonishing 79% increase in provisional votes cast on Election Day between the Municipal elections of 2009 and 2013 (after which the state took away that option).
· Then, to make matters even worse, we moved the only on-campus voting location, Boone 2, from the Student Union to the obviously inadequate (as expressed by both ASU and our own Director) Legends nightclub, as far away from young voters and all the faulty and staff as we could get.
· The results of this Board’s actions are now in.
· Even though both early and election day voting have been reasonably strong countywide in the last two elections, voting in Boone 2 has fallen by almost 58% between the last two elections, and, in Boone 3, voting has fallen by almost 30%.
· Voting by the County’s 18-21 year old voters has suffered even worse between the last two elections, dramatically so. In Boone 2, votes cast by 18-21 year olds is down 80%, and in Boone 3, voting by 18-21 year olds is down almost 50%.
· For the 2013 Municipal elections, we offered a single early voting site downtown. While we did increase overall turnout by 1.18% in 2013 compared to the 2009 Municipal, this was the result of a 1.26% increase in mail-in ballots. And then, as the result of inadequate one-stop location siting in 2014, we saw an even more dramatic increase in the county’s number of mail-in ballots, up almost 42% higher than even the previous election.
· Comparing the 2010 Primary Election (when an early voting site and Student Union Election Day site were available, and when provisional/transfer voting was allowed) to the 2014 Primary election (when neither were available), total votes cast on the ASU campus has now resulted in a 75% decrease. As a result, the average age of total voters who cast ballots countywide increased in 2014 by 8 years.
· Ballots cast by mail increased by over 50% for both Democrats and Unaffiliated voters from the 2010 to the 2014 primary, while requests for mail-in ballots for Republicans fell by 32%. And because this Board eliminated two of the three in-town early voting locations, Democratic performance fell in one-stop voting by almost 4 percent from 2010 to 2014 while republican performance increased almost 3%.
· The number of votes cast in Boone 2 in 2013 on ASU’s campus location fell by almost 58% in 2014, primarily from the lack of a one-stop site combined with the disallowance of provisional ballots.
· And One-stop voting across all precincts fell from 40% of the vote in 2013 to 35% of the total vote in 2014 even though we offered 5 times the number of one-stop locations.
· This is what has happened when these voters were given the one-two-three-four punch of losing a week of early voting, losing out-of-precinct provisional voting, losing an early voting site on campus, and getting unsuitable voting places on election day. The results are disheartening, but not surprising.
· Plus all this, what we are doing in siting our one-stop locations is a waste of money and staff and a frustration for voters. Of the 5 one-stop locations we used in this May’s primary, the single downtown early voting location took in over 72% of all early voters. And that’s because people drive right past the remote sites we’d offered to come and vote downtown. 37% of the Meat Camp early voters voted somewhere other than the Meat Camp Fire Department. The same is true for all the other remote sites as well. Even one-fourth of Blowing Rock’s early ballots were cast in downtown Boone.
· If we assume a similar turnout for this November’s general election as we had in 2010 (and frankly I believe that’s low), we should expect to receive 7,522 total one-stop voters downtown; that’s a 342% increase from the number we had just this past primary. And we’re looking at 5,416 voters trying to use the single downtown site for early voting alone. Where are we going to park all these people? How are we going to handle the 86 expected voters per hour for early voting at the downtown location this November as opposed to the 26 per hour we averaged this past primary?
· In the 2010 General Election, we offered just three sites, and none of them accommodated more than 38 voters per hour because the other 2 in-town locations eased the traffic at the downtown location. It’s simply a no-brainer to offer an early voting site in ASU’s Student Union. There is plenty of parking, the space exceeds all of our criteria, many if not most of our registered voters live and/or work there, and the public has it made it clear they want the site.
The elections this board has supervised since it took office have been important but relatively small. They should be used as a shakedown cruise for the major election facing us this fall. We now have an opportunity to learn from that shakedown cruise and give our voters an election in which everyone can have confidence. 

Headline of the Day

"North Carolina voters are extremely unexcited about Thom Tillis"

"Extremely unexcited" captures the oxymoronic vibe that Mr. Tillis has created for himself. Jumbo shrimp!

Or living dead.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Comedic Stylings of Bill Aceto

Last night's meeting of the Watauga County Board of Elections had one laugh-out-loud moment. As the two-man Republican majority was turning down third member Kathleen Campbell's proposal to restore an Early Voting site to the campus of Appalachian State University, Board Secretary Bill Aceto said that he thought voters deserved consistency of polling locations. As though the Republican Early Voting plan represented something decades old and hoary with veneration.

Couldn't help flashing on the morning of August 12, 2013, at Mr. Aceto's very first Board of Elections meeting after being newly sworn into office. He and Luke Eggers upended the apple basket pretty thoroughly, voting to combine Boone 1, 2 & 3 precincts into a single mega-precinct, removing the Early Voting site on the ASU campus (where it had been consistently for several election cycles), and moving the in-town polling station for New River 3 far out into the country for the upcoming municipal elections.

Consistency? Not so much.

Naked partisanship twisting the right to vote into a pretzel? Absolutely!

McCrory Who Sits on Fence Has Stick Up His Ass

Governor Squishy said yesterday that it's too early for him to have an opinion on the newest bright idea in the General Assembly to cripple the ability of North Carolina cities to govern themselves.

The power-hungry martinets in the Republican Party tell Boone it can't govern its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and now wants to tell Charlotte, Raleigh, and other cities that it can't raise sales taxes to pay teachers or expand mass transit, never mind what the voters in those cities want.

Meanwhile, Gov. Squishy can't gin up an opinion?

"Guess what I've got in my hands!"

Shooting Blanks

Okay. I posted this photo yesterday. Then, overnight, I thought that even a prick like Rick wouldn't dare pose in this ridiculous, self-defeating way, and I concluded by the morning light that the photo must be photoshopped. So I took it down this morning. Have been searching since for confirmation.

Juanita Jean thinks it's real, which is good enough for me. Until someone else offers proof to the contrary.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trial Balloon?

NC Speaker of the House and candidate for U.S. Senate Thom Tillis is now saying that the budget impasse in Raleigh may deprive teachers of any raises at all.

Tillis is off raising money from the D.C. lobbyist crowd. So his bread is buttered.

Maybe what Tillis forecast -- no raise at all for teachers -- is just a hard clod thrown in Senate Republican leader Phil Berger's general direction.

Whatever raise teachers end up with -- if they end up with anything -- will be token, a sop to make up for years of abuse and neglect and outright hostility from Our Betters in Raleigh. May they choke on their campaign cash.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Surveillance Nation

On the night of March 8, 1971, eight persons broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole suitcases full of secret files. At first, the break-in was known only to the FBI, whose crazy czar, J. Edgar Hoover, was flipping out -- quite literally, flipping out -- at the thought that unknown persons were now in possession of some of his darkest secrets.

Gradually, the burglary became known to Americans as the burglars began sending copies of some of the files to journalists. One of those newspaper people was Betty Medsger, who was working for the Washington Post. She became one of the first journalists to expose the secret war that J. Edgar Hoover was waging on political activists he didn't approve of, especially campus anti-war activists and most especially black activists still struggling for basic civil rights.

Those burglars were never caught. J. Edgar's total inability to crack the case, even though he devoted millions of $$ of resources and thousands of hours of investigation by hundreds of special agents, inadvertently revealed another secret about the FBI: the cult of personality that ruled it also rendered it massively ineffective.

That burglary in Media, Pa., sprung a leak that has never stopped spewing new revelations about how one twisted man turned the Federal Bureau of Investigation into his personal peephole, a perfect expression of his paranoia, his bigotry, his closeted fear of other people, and of other ideas.

Betty Medsger has now, over 40 years after the burglary and with the cooperation of the burglars, finally revealed the identities of the thieves, their motivations, their planning, and their execution of the theft that was one of the landmarks in saving our Republic from the sick mind and twisted motives of J. Edgar Hoover.

The book Medsger has written, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, is riveting. It often reads like a spy thriller, but it goes much deeper. At the very least, it is essential history of where we were as a nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an emotionally exhausted state where we seem to have arrived again.

Hoover was able to maintain surveillance on hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans out of fear, and use that surveillance to disrupt, intimidate, smear, and even drive to suicide Americans he did not like -- fear of Commies, fear of "radicals," fear of "peace activists," fear of black revolutionaries.

As Medsger points out, Americans are still living in the grip of fear, especially after 9/11, and our government has only expanded -- vastly and without let-up -- its ability to spy on us all, relentlessly and without meaningful oversight. The revelations we all owe to Edward Snowden are an exact analogy to the 1971 Media burglary.

Under Barack Obama, the surveillance nation has only grown. He has not only defended NSA surveillance; he's expanded it. The Obama administration has criminally prosecuted more government whistle-blowers than have all previous presidents combined. Some of the curbs imposed on the FBI after the Media revelations have been lifted by Obama. One of the NSA documents that Snowden released shows that the agency scoops up millions of personal digital address books at a daily rate of 444,743 from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail, and 22,881 from other providers.

It's as though the ghost of J. Edgar is chortling from the grave, while we Americans allow the fear of external and internal unknowns to make us obedient to this massive and democracy-threatening spy system.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jonathan Jordan Does What Art Pope Tells Him To Do

Another lengthy, in-depth investigative report on the octopus grip that Art Pope now holds on the state of North Carolina. In it, there's this section which recounts the death of our state's pioneering system of public financing for judicial races, a system which kept huge special interest money from buying judges outright. Reprinted here to document Rep. Jonathan Jordan's inability to have independent judgment when Mr. Moneybags taps him on the shoulder.
More than a decade ago, Pope strongly objected when the legislature created a pioneering campaign financing system for Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judicial elections.
“Candidate welfare,” he said at the time.
The voluntary program was celebrated by advocates of stricter campaign finance rules as a national model for limiting the ability of special interests to influence judges, by providing them with access to public funding.
“While other states were having just outrageous sums being spent on these statewide judicial races, North Carolina’s races stayed relatively inexpensive,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a government watchdog group.
When McCrory introduced his first budget in 2013, the program had been eliminated.
Supporters scrambled to find a way to salvage it, enlisting state Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R) to sponsor an amendment that would allow it to continue in a scaled-down form.
The day the issue was set to be discussed in the House, Pope took Jordan aside in a hallway outside the chamber, arguing that the amendment was unconstitutional.
Jordan shelved his measure. The lawmaker, who received $16,000 in campaign contributions from the Pope family when he ran in 2010, did not return requests for comment.
Pope said it was appropriate for him to make the case about the merits of the governor’s budget to a state lawmaker, acknowledging that he has long personally been opposed to such public campaign finance programs.
Asked if he played a role in McCrory’s thinking, Pope said, “I gave my analysis and advice to the governor.”
This year, outside money has targeted North Carolina judicial races, including an $800,000 campaign that accused Hudson of being soft on child molesters. One of Hudson’s challengers was Jeanette Doran, former executive director of the Pope-backed North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law. She placed third in the May primary, but Hudson was forced into a runoff with another Republican.