- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Sept. 8

Winston-Salem Journal on President Donald Trump saying people who vote early by mail should show up at their local polling places on Election Day and vote again if their ballots haven’t been counted:

So, the president of the United States went to Wilmington last week and encouraged North Carolina voters to commit a felony by voting twice, once by mail and once in person.

People are already worried enough about the coming election. They don’t need this sort of reckless comment from someone who’s supposed to be a leader.

Trump’s ill-advised suggestion came in response to a reporter’s question about the president’s faith in North Carolina’s system of voting by mail. Trump presented it as a way to test that system: If people mail in a ballot and then show up to vote in person, they’ll either get turned away because the system is working, or they’ll get to vote twice.

“That’s what they should do,” he said.

Only, of course, it’s not. Voting twice in the same election is illegal.

The following day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News, “The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful. What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not then vote.”

But that’s not what he said, nor is it the first time that Trump’s staff has had to “clarify” a confused statement from the president.

What he said about voting would be a bad idea at any time, but it was especially irresponsible now. People are already worried about voting safely while the COVID-19 pandemic still rages. They are worried about foreign interference in the electoral process and the possibility of voter fraud.

People are worried that they can’t trust our electoral system - the heart of our democratic system. And rather than doing all he can to help states ensure that voting proceeds safely and every legitimate vote is counted, Trump has been stirring doubt.

Repeatedly, he’s made claims about rampant fraud and problems with mail-in voting, without any evidence. Then his new postmaster general, Greensboro’s Louis DeJoy, started dismantling postal equipment and slowing service, making people even warier.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps throwing out tales about thugs in planes and other imaginary threats designed to ramp up uncertainty, fear, and even violence.

Apparently, Trump’s idea about voting twice is an attempt to fix a problem he’s created. His base includes many older voters and others who might prefer to mail their ballots in this year, maybe for the first time. Raising doubts about voting by mail could cost him votes.

He’s also been spreading misleading information about the process of mail-in voting, which varies by state. He’s been insisting that there’s a big difference between absentee voting (OK) and other mailed ballots (somehow not).

For the record, in North Carolina, there is no difference. We already have no-excuse mail-in absentee voting.

Voters can request and receive absentee ballots without having to prove a need. Voting by mail is essential for many members of the military, for people who are traveling at election time and for those with certain disabilities.

Mail-in voting also can be convenient for people for any number of reasons, and that’s fine.

In the midst of a pandemic, voting by mail can make sense for older people and others with health risks. Those who want to vote by mail should carefully follow procedures at their local elections boards and get the ballots in as early as possible. Another good alternative to being in crowds on Election Day is to take advantage of early in-person voting.

Also for the record, North Carolina for decades has had a system designed to make sure that if you vote by mail and then in person, your vote will not be counted twice.

The bottom line? Vote by mail if you choose.

But vote only once. If for no other reason, elections officials don’t need extra work or headaches.

And voting twice could bring a felony charge.

It’s also simply wrong. No matter what Trump might say.

Online: https://journalnow.com


Sept. 8

The News & Record on public comments at city council meetings in Greensboro, North Carolina:

The Greensboro City Council works for the taxpaying public - which presumably also means listening to the taxpaying public.

Uh, doesn’t it?

You have to wonder.

The council has now all but eliminated public comments during, of all times, the one meeting of the month that is supposed to be devoted solely … to public comments.

That town hall-style meeting format debuted in January 2018 as the city’s version of an open-mike night.

It was public engagement at its best and, occasionally, worst - sometimes powerful and compelling, sometimes messy and annoying.

But, on the whole, it was well worth the bother.

Now the council effectively appears to have done away with it.

The most recent public comment meeting on Sept. 1 was completely free of public comments.

You could email or phone in and leave a voicemail. The comments are summarized and shared by the mayor at the next meeting.

This may prevent some grandstanding. But it also mutes the voices of others whose causes are sincere and valid.

Now, if you’re looking only for sheer efficiency, this is terrific. Last week’s meeting came and went in barely more than 30 minutes before the council adjourned to convene a closed session.

The council spent what little time it did meet in public mostly listening to itself.

Then sayonara, hasta la vista. T-t-t-t-that was all, folks.

Is this really how you’re supposed to conduct the people’s business?

The public still has the opportunity to comment during public hearings on specific agenda items at regular council business meetings, but that’s it.

The council could cite as a convenient excuse its shift to virtual meetings as a COVID-19 precaution.

Yet as the local online publication, the Rhino Times, has rightly pointed out, if you have the technology to allow citizen speakers during public hearings, you could make the same effort for what, in more normal times, were called “speakers from the floor.”

Yes, we know. Public forums at council meetings could be messy, loud, rude, disruptive and sometimes even bawdy affairs. Some of the same people would come up over and over to air the same grievances. Other speakers would breach the bounds of public taste and decorum, prompting the city to post a warning at the beginning of streamed and televised meetings.

We’ve experienced similar challenges with online commenters.

In today’s hypercharged political climate, with its deep divisions and distrust and conspiracy theories and pandemic fatigue, it’s even worse.

And Greensboro is hardly alone. The web is filled with footage of public commenters behaving badly (including those irate Floridians who rebelled against mask-wearing as an affront to their freedom - in a coronavirus hotbed).

We feel the council’s pain.

But today’s council sessions are Zoom meetings (or whatever brand of video conferencing they’re using). They even stumble through the same technical glitches and awkwardness the rest of us muddle through. (“Can you turn up your volume? We can’t hear you.”)

That makes managing speakers easier, not harder. And it eliminates the disruptions that sometimes resulted in the past during in-person meetings.

Further, this is an important part of the council’s job.

When the council first shifted to virtual meetings in the spring, probably no one expected this to have to last into the fall. Now we know.

“It was never our intent to squelch public comments,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said in an interview Friday. “I believe that, pre-COVID, we were one of the most pro-public comment city councils in the state.”

Now we’re not.

Vaughan said the current format is based on the advice of the city attorney.

But she also said she was open to reconsidering how public comments are handled.

That would be our advice. With the threat of the coronavirus still making in-person meetings hazardous, virtual meetings are going to be a way of life until at least early 2021, the mayor said.

That’s a long time to give short shift to the public’s voice.

Would a more robust comment session make meetings longer? Definitely.

Would it veer off-course at times onto wacky tangents that no one saw coming? Very likely.

Would some people abuse their speaking privileges with off-color language, personal attacks or disruptive rhetoric?

You can bet on it.

But the benefit outweighs the cost.

And the technology clearly allows for more than we’re getting now.

If there is a will, there is a way.

Online: https://greensboro.com


Sept. 3

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on gun sales in North Carolina:

Firearm sales surged when the pandemic forced a shutdown in March. Now sales are rising again as President Trump warns of U.S. cities being overrun by looting mobs while police are left helpless to respond for lack of funding and respect.

Trump’s appeal to fear is a desperate fiction peddled by a trailing candidate who wants to shift the subject from his abject failure to respond to the pandemic. But it’s having an effect that’s as real as a bullet.

North Carolina sheriffs’ departments are swamped with requests for handgun permits. Wake County alone has received 20,304 permit applications through July of this year, up from 6,107 for the same period last year. Gun shops – their inventory cut by pandemic-related slowdowns among gun manufacturers – are running out of handguns. Anxious people are buying shotguns and rifles instead.


Larry Hyatt, the owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, told the Editorial Board, “We have so many new gun buyers. One thing I’m hearing over and over is, ‘We don’t have a gun in the house, now we feel like we need one.’”

Hyatt hasn’t seen demand like this since the days after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Buyers then were trying to get ahead of what they thought would be draconian new federal gun laws. “This time,” Hyatt said, “it’s not out of fear of legislation. It’s out of fear itself.”

This is another bad turn in a terrible year. More guns won’t make people safer. It will put them at greater risk of an accidental shooting, a child finding a gun, a suicide or a family fight ending in gunfire. And the risk is especially great for new gun owners unfamiliar with how to handle or store a gun.

Trump should be discouraging people from putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. Instead, he’s defending a 17-year-old with an military-style rifle who went to Kenosha, Wis., to defend property against vandalism by protesters. He ended up shooting three people, killing two. He faces multiple homicide charges.

Shannon Klug is a Charlotte volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a gun-control group, but she is also a retired Air Force colonel and a gun owner. She wishes more civilians would treat firearms as seriously as the military does.

“It’s not a far jump to understand why people feel the need to protect themselves” with a gun, she said. ”But you really have to know what you’re doing with it.”

Instead she sees recklessness. Referring to the Kenosha shooter, she said, “He was underage. I don’t think a child should have access to an assault weapon.” She added, “Open carry in a protest situation is dangerous.”

Most Americans and North Carolinians would agree. And they would support other modest new controls on guns.

Americans shouldn’t be afraid of Trump’s bogeymen. They should be afraid of so many guns. Outbreaks of vandalism amid city protests is a far less serious threat than the daily toll of gunfire and the terrible scourge of mass shootings.


Instead of abandoning his responsibility to ensure domestic tranquility, Trump should be emulating the president who lifted the nation out of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt said the nation should reject “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

The best response to the state of Trump’s America – a land disrupted by his bungling response to the pandemic and divided by his exploitation of racial and political differences – isn’t to go to a gun store. It’s to go to the polls and convert retreat into advance.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com

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