- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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April 26

The News & Observer of Raleigh on state lawmakers attempt to reduce the number of appellate court judges:

North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough, a Republican, admirably resigned his position Monday in advance of mandatory retirement, which gave Gov. Roy Cooper the opportunity to appoint his successor, John Arrowood, a Democrat. McCullough’s action was an honorable step, befitting someone of integrity who placed the court’s well-being first. It came as legislative Republicans attempt to reduce the court’s size for the clear purpose of denying Cooper the right to replace retiring Republicans with Democrats.

The judiciary ought to be above politics, concerned only with fairness and the best interests of the public and the efficient and fair administration of justice.

Republicans are trying to politicize the state’s courts as much as they can, from making judicial races partisan to now cutting the size of the state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12. GOP leaders are doing that with not-so-secret smirks. Because though they claim the reduction is because of a lighter work load on the court, the real reason is that three judgeships held by Republicans (including McCullough’s) will be vacated due to mandatory retirements.

Republicans, simply put, don’t want Cooper to replace those judges with Democrats - just as they curbed some of his appointive power - so they’re prepared to step in and change the state’s judicial system for purely partisan reasons.

Four people who object happen to be three Democrats and one Republican who are former chief justices of the state Supreme Court. All of them are respected in the legal community. Burley Mitchell, James Exum, Sarah Parker and I. Beverly Lake have penned a letter to legislative leaders complaining about the downsizing. They say the reduction in work is negligible, and that last year, the appeals court rendered decisions in more than 1,500 cases and ruled on 4,456 motions.

The legislation has passed. Cooper vetoed it. The retired jurists are hoping that a veto-proof Republican majority will not override the governor, which is likely a vain hope but one worth having.

Republicans also want to eliminate emergency judges except for business court. Again, this is a partisan maneuver and it’s bad for the system - and also opposed by these former chief justices.

GOP leaders seem to take delight in slapping at Cooper every chance they get, but their actions will do harm to justice itself.

In weakening the judicial system, and that’s what cutting the number of appeals judges and emergency judges would do, Republican lawmakers are hurting their state and their own constituents.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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April 23

The Charlotte Observer on a rule eliminated from the ‘Beer Bill’ in state legislature:

If there ever were a bill that should have sailed through a conservative legislature, it was North Carolina’s House Bill 500.

The bill, an omnibus piece of legislation dealing with alcohol beverage control reforms, eliminated a rule that forces growing craft brewers to turn over their distribution operations to wholesalers. The rule, which applies to brewers that produce more than 25,000 barrels a year, serves no other purpose than to enrich those wholesalers and protect beer conglomerates from craft beer competition.

Theoretically, at least, HB 500 should have been a slam dunk for Republicans. It would have killed an unnecessary regulation (which conservatives loathe), and it would’ve gotten the government out of picking business winners (which conservatives at least say they loathe.)

But last week, lawmakers dropped the language in HB 500 that would have raised the self-distribution limit for craft brewers. The “beer bill,” as it was known, is no more, and its supporters just got a lesson in something that’s as powerful as conservatism in N.C. politics - money.

The beer bill was supported by some prominent N.C. conservative groups, but it was opposed by wholesalers, who were backed by the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. Together, that opposition has given $1.5 million in donations between 2013 and 2016 to legislative campaigns and political parties, according to an analysis from government watchdog Democracy NC.

So last week, lawmakers were all ears when wholesalers trotted out two astoundingly weak arguments for keeping the rules. First, they noted that some small brewers were having issues accounting for their stock and paying taxes - a not-so-uncommon issue for new businesses but one that doesn’t require the help of distributors. Also, they complained that craft brewers would be able to break distribution contracts, neglecting to emphasize that those contracts were forced upon brewers.

What alcohol wholesalers didn’t mention is that other industries in North Carolina don’t require a producer of a product to use a distributor, whether that producer wants to or not. Because that’s not how a free market is supposed to work.

But the principles Republicans campaign on have a funny way of disappearing by the time they start casting votes in Raleigh. Another example: N.C. lawmakers also are poised to pass HB 467, which would limit lawsuits that North Carolinians can file against hog farms. The bill is essentially a regulation against citizens who would be denied the right to have a court, not the legislature, decide if they have a legitimate grievance against a business neighbor.

It’s not hard to find other examples, each with a common thread: Regulation-hating Republicans don’t mind regulating the lives of people - and even some businesses - so long as there’s a benefit to big businesses, especially those who might contribute to campaigns.

Certainly, Republicans aren’t the only lawmakers who like campaign dollars, but they are the ones who so frequently bow to corporate interests. Craft brewers - and their free-market supporters - are just the latest to understand how bitter that tastes.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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April 26

The News & Record of Greensboro on voter fraud in North Carolina:

There was voter fraud in North Carolina last year. But not much.

The audit by the State Board of Elections released last week concludes that at least 508 ballots were cast by ineligible voters. That’s a tiny fraction of the 4.8 million votes tallied, but it isn’t nothing.

So neither side in the political argument about ballot security can claim to be right. There’s less than a big problem and more than no problem.

However, everyone should recognize that election officials in North Carolina work very hard to make sure elections are run with integrity.

Most fraudulent voters are felons, according to the audit. Felons lose the right to vote in North Carolina until they complete their sentences, including probation or parole obligations. People who are in prison aren’t going to get to the polls, but individuals who are on probation or parole might. That’s a violation of law, and they should know better. But election officials also are updating software so they’ll know when to remove felons from the registration rolls.

Some noncitizens voted. In every case, the person entered the country lawfully. Some thought they were entitled to vote, as in the case of a 70-year-old woman who was married to a citizen and thought that made her a citizen.

There were also some individuals who were wrongfully tagged as ineligible but should have been allowed to vote, the audit found.

Twenty-four cases of double voting are under investigation. Some of these people think they’re entitled to vote everywhere they own property, which isn’t true, according to the audit.

The state board “rarely encounters verified cases of voter impersonation, though two cases are being referred to prosecutors from the election last fall,” the audit reports. In one case, a woman voted by absentee mail-in ballot in her husband’s name. In the other, a woman tried to vote at the polls by impersonating her late mother.

There were a few cases of voters who cast early ballots but died before Election Day. Those ballots should be discarded if they’re detected, but this isn’t the same as “dead people voting.”

The audit found that intentional fraud is very rare and consists almost entirely of isolated incidents.

It’s not confined to any one political party. The audit also makes clear that fraud can be detected often enough that it should deter efforts to cheat. Cases are turned over to district attorneys for possible prosecution.

Election officials do a good job of policing the system, but they can always do better. Nevertheless, there’s thin evidence to support drastic changes in the voting process, such as eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting by provisional ballots.

The argument for a photo ID is weak, given how infrequently anyone tries to impersonate another voter. Restrictions that make it significantly harder for some people to vote aren’t worth the cost as, according to the audit, 99.99 percent of votes are cast by eligible voters.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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