Democracy North Carolina’s Executive Director Bob Hall periodically posts commentary and links of interest about one of our core issue areas. Review his posts below or click here to automatically subscribe to our Link-of-The-Day feed via email and other options.
You are welcome to submit comments to this moderated blog. Please treat others with respect, avoid partisan rhetoric, and help us provide a fact-based discussion of issues related to North Carolina’s political landscape. Thank you.
Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
At the close of filing today, 13 candidates had signed up to replace Judge Jim Wynn on the NC Court of Appeals. That means North Carolina will host the nation’s first statewide election using the Instant Runoff Voting method in decades. Voters can select up to three candidates in order of their preference, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Your 2nd and 3rd choices are backups and only count if your 1st choice loses. That’s the core message to voters. The counting works this way: In the first round of counting, only the 1st choices are tallied. If a candidate gets a majority of 1st choices, the election is over – but that’s unlikely with 13 candidates. In a second round of counting, the two candidates with the most 1st choices go into a “virtual” runoff with all of their votes. The ballots of voters who selected other candidates as their 1st choice are then reviewed and their vote goes to whichever runoff candidate they ranked highest. (Some voters may not have picked either, similar to not showing up in a separate runoff.) Here’s how it might work in practice. Say the top two vote getters in the first round, Alpha and Beta, received 23% and 19% of all the first choices. So 42% of the voters have their 1st choice in the runoff; their backup choices are not reviewed. The other 58% of the ballots will be reviewed to see if Alpha or Beta is ranked, and which is ranked higher, as a 2nd or 3rd choice, and that’s where their vote goes. Candidate Alpha may pick up another 12% of the voters and Beta may get another 14%. So Alpha wins with 35% of the votes cast (23% + 12%) over Beta’s 33% (19% + 14%). Neither candidate gets an absolute majority, but Alpha gets a majority of those expressing a preference between the top two vote getters, Alpha and Beta. There will be plenty of naysayers trashing IRV and it is especially challenging with a low-profile judicial election with 13 candidates, but remember this: the General Assembly adopted the IRV method for this kind of election only after 8 candidates ran in 2004 to fill a late vacancy on the NC Supreme Court, and the winner got only 23% of the votes.
Monday, August 30th, 2010
Three state Senate races to fill vacancies in southeastern North Carolina could decide whether Democrats or Republicans win majority control of that body. The majority party will use the new Census data to redraw the boundary lines for Congressional and legislative districts for the next decade, with an eye to securing a partisan advantage in as many districts as possible. That’s how the current system legally works – the representatives pick their voters. The high stakes in this round of General Assembly elections means we will see several million-dollar contests, all paid for by private interests, plus record “independent” spending by outside groups. No matter how much is spent, winning still comes down to having the most votes among those cast – the voters pick their representatives, for better or worse.
Friday, August 27th, 2010
Mother Jones magazine gives this factoid from a new series by the Center for Responsive Politics: Environmental organizations spent a record $22 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies last year, but for every dollar the groups spent, the oil and gas industry spent eight dollars. Exxon alone spent more on lobbying than all the environmental groups. The Center’s five-day series reveals the insidious power of the oil and gas industry, with links and charts that spell out how we’re getting gassed. The chart on oil/gas campaign contributions fueling members of Congress shows Sen. Richard Burr way ahead of other NC members, in dollars and share of total fundraising; he’s taken over $500,000 in the past decade, about 10 times most other delegation members. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has an interactive map with a host of data about the U.S. House and U.S. Senate elections and the 37 states with gubernatorial elections. From those pages you can navigate to other aspects of the Post’s coverage of federal elections.
Thursday, August 26th, 2010
A mere 90 years ago today, a new Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution declared, “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Women were voting in some states as early as the 1830s, but most states vigorously resisted, especially in the South, as an op-ed column by historian Christine Stansell points out. The women’s suffrage movement ultimately triumphed, navigating through generational, racial, class and geographic divides and employing a rich array of tactics, from direct action to gentle persuasion. The victory was capped by a mom’s reminder to her son to “be a good boy.” The son, a Tennessee state legislator, changed sides, broke a 48-48 tie and cast the deciding vote that ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in the final state needed for enrollment in the Constitution. You think one vote doesn’t make a difference? Today, women comprise 55% of the registered voters in North Carolina and vote in significantly higher numbers than men. Beth Messersmith of Moms Rising has a good column about practical ways women in NC can be involved in politics and teach others about the importance of voting.
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
The State Board of Elections voted 4 to 1 to fine Gov. Bev Perdue’s campaign committee $30,000 for failing to properly disclose private airplane flights donated to her 2008 campaign. An eight-month investigation by the Board’s chief investigator Kim Strach turned up a hodgepodge of incomplete records and compliance problems with the campaign, but not enough indication of criminal wrongdoing to justify an evidentiary hearing. The two Republican board members backed a request by NC GOP Chair Tom Fetzer for such a hearing, but the three Democrats voted that motion down. In weekly press conferences, Fetzer has succeeded in politicizing the investigation, with contradictory demands that it be sped up, concluded, and more probing, and demands that Board Chair Larry Leake and Director Gary Bartlett resign for protecting fellow Democrat, Gov. Perdue. A higher fine could have been justified for the volume of missing information and the poor cooperation of Perdue’s campaign, which dribbled out information to Strach. But Perdue’s campaign manager, Zach Ambrose, pointed out in a letter delivered to State Board members yesterday that he had given the data for the flights to the election staff in early 2008 to see if the documentation requirements were met. Ambrose got a positive review from the Board staff and gave the material to his campaign compliance officers, but for unexplained reasons they did not include some flights on disclosure reports. This was a snafu not an effort to deceive, Ambrose said: “It seems obvious to me that records related to these flights would not have been given by me to the Board in the first half of 2008 if there had been any intention on my part or on the part of the Committee to conceal information about these flights.” Interestingly, the Associated Press story today mentions Ambrose’s letter, but not the News & Observer, which has been playing up the partisan conflict between Fetzer and the State Board.
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
Two quick updates: One fun, one bum. Last Thursday’s LINK described the growing protest over Target’s decision to use its corporate money to meddle in a gubernatorial election in Minnesota. One sure sign of a protest movement is folks creating their own way to deliver a message and have some fun, too. Check out the spirited flashmob with the message, Target ain’t people! Another sure sign: You know you’re dealing with a real louse when a billionaire tries to buy enough goodwill to cover over his perverse anti-social behavior. Check out this amazing New Yorker magazine profile of the David Koch (per last Friday’s LINK), brother Charles, and the origins of Americans for Prosperity.
Monday, August 23rd, 2010
The 14 chemical companies that put the most residents in the US at risk from poisonous gas leaks or terrorist attack include JCI Jones’s Charlotte facility that manufactures and distributes chlorine, sulfur dioxide and other hazardous products. A new report by US PIRG says over 800,000 people live within the immediate danger zone around the JCI Jones’ Charlotte facility. The PIRG report details the lobbying and political contributions that the 14 companies and their trade associations have invested to fight proposals requiring chemical companies to assess their risks and shift to less dangerous processes where appropriate. The House-passed Chemical and Water Security Act (H.R. 2868) is stalled in the Senate, thanks in part to this investment which especially targets members of key Congressional committees. Other corporations on the list include Clorox, Dow, DuPont, and Honeywell. JCI Jones makes the list not because of its political spending, which doesn’t register in this report, but because it ranks third among corporations exposing the most people to poisonous gas leaks – 12 million people living around 11 facilities in the US. The report notes that if you think accidents don’t happen, think BP.
Friday, August 20th, 2010
Which candidates for the NC General Assembly have the most money to spend before the election? The NC Free Enterprise Foundation posted convenient lists of the cash-on-hand for candidates in the state House and state Senate elections, based on disclosure reports through June 30, 2010. For example, Senate Democratic candidates Margaret Dickson, David Redwine, Jim Leutze and Dewey Hudson trailed their opponents in open seat contests. All House Democratic candidates have 2.4 times as much as Republicans, but Senate Republican candidates are basically even with Democrats, thanks largely to loans many have made to themselves (e.g., Neal Hunt, Richard Stevens and Don East). It will be interesting to see how much money the flush candidates share with their colleagues in tight races. Importantly, Republicans gained control of the state House in the 1994 election after achieving fundraising parity with Democrats for the first time in many decades.
Thursday, August 19th, 2010
The bull’s-eye on Target is getting bigger. As we described in our August 2 entry, the retailer donated $100,000 to a business group for ads supporting a rightwing gubernatorial candidate in its home state of Minnesota. It gave another $50,000 to help the group’s operations. Now Target is paying the price and teaching other corporations about the backlash they may experience if they use their customers money to sway an election. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, Target is not a voter, not a person, not a friend. You can let the company know what you think through the MoveOn link. And you can use the example as a call for broad reforms, as the Brennan Center does.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
J. Art Pope, the rightwing sugar daddy for the John Locke Foundation and big donor to Americans for Prosperity, is using a 527 committee to funnel his corporation’s money into political ads aimed at discrediting Democratic candidates for the NC General Assembly in this fall’s election. Pope has done this before with six-figure donations from Variety Wholesalers, owners of Rose’s, Maxway, Super Dollar and other retail stores. (Yes, he uses revenues from his low/moderate-income customers to promote his anti-government agenda!) The first ad doesn’t mention candidates by name, but the 527 committee (Real Jobs NC) has already filed a disclosure report announcing that it’s going after Democratic incumbents Alice Underhill and Hugh Holliman. Other donors of Real Jobs NC including the Republican State Leadership Committee and RightChange.com which includes Republican state legislators Fletcher Hartsell and Jeff Barnhart as officers. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity announced it is launching a $4.1 million dollar ad campaign in 11 states to influence the outcome in 24 Congressional elections. AFP is taking advantage of the new Citizens United ruling that allows it to use corporate money for electioneering without setting up a PAC or 527 committee; and because Congress has not enacted the DISCLOSE Act, the donors will remain a mystery. The founding chairman and major patron of AFP is David Koch of Koch Industries, a notoriously secretive conglomerate and exporter of jobs. Thanks to a new law adopted this year in North Carolina, it would be harder for AFP to keep its donors hidden if it financed a similar series of ads attacking state (rather than federal) candidates. The use of mystery corporate money to corrupt elections with Supreme Court protection continues to rankle sensible people and merit state and national media attention.
Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
A 120-page report by a trio of nonprofit groups analyzes the $207 million spent on the nation’s state judicial elections over the past decade, more than double the amount spent in the previous decade. Self interested “super-spenders” are especially fueling the arms race that aims to turn “blind justice” into “justice for sale.” A forward by y former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, state reports (including a shout-out to the achievements of North Carolina’s public financing program), and analysis of 29 expensive campaigns earned the report wide media coverage, for example, by the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and the Associated Press.
Monday, August 16th, 2010
The Associated Press has two articles about the vacancy created by NC Appeals Court Judge Jim Wynn being sworn in as a new judge on the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. One article highlights the fact that the opening will be filled by voters ranking their choices (Instant Runoff Voting) if more than two candidates file for the office, which is almost certain to happen. The filing period won’t begin until after the State Board of Elections meets on August 24 in Asheville. The other article highlights the drop-off in interest as voters go down the ballot. More than 1 million of the 4.3 million voters in 2008 did not mark a choice in the state Supreme Court race that year. The novelty of using preference voting combined with people’s lack of familiarity with judicial candidates will make implementation of IRV especially challenging. It’s also the first statewide IRV election in the nation in more than 70 years. Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court race between Democrat Bob Hunter and Republican Barbara Jackson, although technically nonpartisan, will determine the partisan make-up of the high court as it heads into 2011, when partisan redistricting plans could be challenged. One other fact that has not yet gotten attention: candidates for the Wynn seat are eligible to participate in the judicial public financing program, per NC General Statute 163-278.64A. If they agree to spending and other limits, and raise at least 225 donations from registered voters of $10 to $500 in the four-week qualifying period, they can be certified to receive about $50,000 or nearly a third of the normal public grant for Court of Appeals contests. So, there’s a lot to keep up with in the judicial elections this year.
Friday, August 13th, 2010
A op-ed column by Joyce McCloy provides useful background on the ballot-price controversy the News & Observer has promoted. North Carolina has tough voting system standards because of federal and state law and experience with thousands of votes being lost by poorly designed machines. Only one company, ES&S, is willing to put up a hefty bond to stand behind its ballot-reading tabulators and pay millions if a new statewide election is required because of its failure. No wonder ES&S is very particular about the kind of paper county election officials buy for their ballots; a fractional difference in thickness, absorbency, moisture tolerance, etc., could cause disaster. It’s disturbing the News & Observer has not made this context clear. Worse, a story on Tuesday incorrectly indicates that county boards of elections must give Printelect first right of refusal before going somewhere else to get their ballots printed. Printelect’s owner is a neighbor and major political donor to Beverly Perdue, which makes the story extra juicy. A memo from state elections director Gary Bartlett to county election officials, which the N&O cites, actually says if you go to ES&S for your ballots, they will give Printelect first right of refusal for the printing job – but the memo makes it clear that you don’t have to go to ES&S at all for ballots. It specifically lists three other options county elections directors have for getting ballots printed and an attachment provides contact info for other printers besides Printelect. So why didn’t the newspaper make this clear? Maybe because the truth would complicate the sell-the-paper storyline of a big political donor ripping off the public with high-priced ballots. Ironically, manipulating evidence to make a case is at the center of the N&O’s series exposing wrongdoing by the SBI.
Thursday, August 12th, 2010
The Center for Responsive Politics has compiled a list of the top individual donors to 527 committees in the second quarter of 2010. The top three are million-dollar donors to Republican operations; then the list gets more diverse, including donors to the League of Conservation Voters and Democratic Governors Association. Altogether, individuals pumped more than $20 million into 527 committees in the quarter, with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads topping the list. The Center’s report and tabs have links to more details about many of the groups and donors.
Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Online voter registration is working well in Indiana, a state notorious for its fixation on voter fraud. Young people especially benefit and the registrations are far more accurate and easier for election officials to process than paper applications. A study by the Pew Center also shows that online registrants voted at a significantly higher rate in the 2008 election. Eight states (Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oregon, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah and Indiana) are now saving money and offering more opportunity through online registration. Typically, voters must have a signature on file with the driver’s license agency, because a signature is required on all voter registration applications. Other information provided is matched with DMV records and the signature is checked when the registrant first signs in to vote. “It’s working out great so far,” says a Republican elections official in Indiana.