Senator McKissick attends Redistricting Conference at Duke University to discuss steps to end gerrymandering in North Carolina
Today, Senate Bill 824, which implements our state’s new constitutional amendment which will require voter IDs in future elections, received a final vote in the NC Senate and has now become the law of the State of NC. I fully anticipate that Governor Cooper will veto this legislation and that his veto will be overridden during this Special Session of the NC General Assembly. Today, protestors were present in opposition to our state’s new voter ID law.
There were a few changes made to the bill by the NC House, the most significant one, in my opinion, will require the NC State Board of Elections to adopt new rules relating to the requesting of absentee ballots in our state. In the future, a person will need to submit some form of photo identification when requesting an absentee ballot. I suspect that other changes could be made to the absentee ballot process. This particular change was enacted as a result of the compelling evidence of rampant voter fraud relating to absentee ballots in Bladen County, NC during the November General Election by a Republican consultant who was working on behalf of Mark Harris, who is a Republican running for Congress from the 9th Congressional District. As a result of ongoing investigations, the election results from the 9th Congressional District and from other races in Bladen County have not been certified by the State Board of Elections. I am optimistic that a new Special Election will be called for the 9th Congressional District so that we can have confidence in the outcome of that race. At this time, the Democrat, Dan McCready, is losing by approximately 905 votes, however, the Republican consultant and his team who were working vigorously in Bladen County on behalf of Mark Harris have submitted hundreds of absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications whose validity is questionable.
Today, Senate Republicans attempted to politicize the Bladen County situation by asking that Governor Cooper appoint a special task force to investigate absentee balloting in Bladen County, however, the scope of the task force’s investigation appears to be much broader than what is necessary or justified. We have a State Board of Elections which is lawfully charged with conducting investigations into the Bladen County situation as well as a District Attorney who can take action if criminal charges are necessary. That should be sufficient to address this current crisis that we are facing. We need to get the necessary investigations completed as expeditiously as possible, and, hopefully, a new Special Election can be conducted that will allow the voters of the 9th Congressional District to have a legitimate voice and Representative in Congress.
Today, there is cause for celebration since, as a result of the decision of Senator Tim Scott (R-SC)and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Thomas Farr, an attorney who was the architect of the 2013 Voter ID Bill in NC that was determined to be unconstitutional, will not be confirmed to serve as a Federal District Court Judge from our state. Tim Scott, an African American Senator from South Carolina said, “I am ready and willing to support strong candidates for our judicial vacancies that do not have lingering concerns about issues that could affect their decision-making process as a federal judge.”
Scott’s concerns arose as the result of a 1991 US Justice Department memo which was leaked this week which raised concerns over Farr’s role in a well-known voter suppression scheme that took place during the 1984 and 1990 of US Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) which targeted African American voters. Farr worked for Senator Helms at that time.
Civil rights groups, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, have been opposed to Farr’s nomination for nearly a year. Farr wrote North Carolina’s extreme voter ID law in 2013, which was later struck down by a federal appeals court, and in doing so, the court found the law targeted black people “with almost surgical precision.”
Today, the North Carolina Senate passed Senate Bill 824 which implements the recently passed constitutional amendment that allows for voter IDs beginning next year. The voter ID bill that passed 2nd reading today is far broader and more expansive than the bill that was stricken down in Federal Court as being unconstitutional several years ago. The bill passed today would allow for County Boards of Elections across our state to issue Voter Identification Cards to anyone who can provide their name, date of birth, and the last 4 digits of their social security number. The bill, as originally proposed, would’ve allowed these new Voter Identification Cards to expire 8 years after issuance. Today, I was able to obtain bi-partisan support for an amendment to the bill that extended the expiration date of these ID cards to 10 years. In addition, the amendment will require local Boards of Elections to send a notice to those who have the cards advising them that their cards will expire 90 days in advance of an ID’s expiration date. In addition, the amendment would not require a voter to present an ID if they were in an area which had experienced a natural disaster within 100 days of an election. Initially, a 60-day window was proposed.
In addition to these new Voter Identification Cards, a person could present the following forms of ID:
All of the above forms of identification would need to be valid and unexpired, or, it must’ve been expired for one year or less, however, if a voter was 65 years old at the time he or she presented the ID, and the ID card was unexpired on the voter’s 65th birthday, then it would be acceptable.
In addition to the amendment which I ran, Senator Warren Daniel ran an amendment to correct another issue I was concerned about which involved circumstances and standards under which a voter without an ID could sign a Reasonable Impediment Declaration Form which would allow them to vote without an ID. Senator Daniel agreed to use standards that provided greater specificity than those that appeared initially in the current bill.
While I oppose a voter ID requirement, It is now, however, the law of the State of NC and a part of our state’s constitution. Therefore, our challenge is to make sure that as many people who are lawfully registered to vote today will be able to continue to vote in the future, and that their access to photo ID’s or understanding exceptions where an ID would not be required is absolutely imperative. I will continue to work to protect the cherished constitutional right to vote so that we minimize those that are hindered by this new law.
I recently read an editorial by the News and Observer’s Editorial Board which essentially asked the question of why NC has not expanded Medicaid when many so-called “Red states” that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump have approved ballot initiatives committing their states to expanding Medicaid which provides health insurance for low-income persons. This year, voters in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska joined 33 other states and the District of Columbia to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It’s also noticeable that governors elected in Maine, Kansas, and Wisconsin also advocated for Medicaid expansion. In NC, in a 2017 NC Public Policy Poll, it was found that 63% of the voters in our state supported Medicaid expansion while only 25% opposed it. Currently, NC is losing over 2 billion dollars per year in funds that would be sent to our state if we expanded Medicaid to provide services to approximately 500,000 uninsured persons who would qualify. I’ve also seen analysis which indicates that Medicaid expansion would pay for itself through job expansions and related benefits. It has been estimated that Medicaid expansion would provide over 43,000 jobs for persons working directly or indirectly with Medicaid providers. With the new states that have approved Medicaid expansion, it will mean that 75% of the states in our country have decided to protect and provide healthcare services to those who do not have it today. There is no reason why NC should not expand Medicaid as many other Red states have chosen to do.
Today, I had the pleasure of participating as a guest at the Environmental Law & Policy Forum’s Annual Symposium at the Duke University School of Law. The panel which I was a part of addressed the issues of what roles buildings, landscape design and urban infrastructure play in sustainable urban development; as well as if law and policy tools can help build urban environments that are both efficient and equitable. The other guests that were a part of this panel were Kofi Boone, Dept. of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, Dr. Timothy Johnson, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Dr. Danielle Spurlock, Department of City & Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During my remarks, I spoke of the work which I had led in establishing a Legislative Study Commission on Urban Growth and Infrastructure. I established and was a Co-Chair of this legislative study commission which led to legislation that created the NC Sustainable Communities Task Force. This task force brought together planning directors from Winston Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh, as well as members of the Councils of Government and State Department Heads from our State’s Commerce Department, Environment and Natural Resources Department, Transportation Department, Health and Human Services Department, as well we the NC House and Finance Agency, among others. We provided over $500,000 to support sustainable development and planning for local governments, and we were successful in attracting $3.2 million dollars in federal funds for this purpose. It was a great project for which NC received high recognition, and I actually received several awards for my leadership with these initiatives. Unfortunately, the Republican majority repealed the legislation which created this project after it had been in operation for only a two-year period of time.
Today, President Donald Trump announced his intent to execute an Executive Order that would eliminate birthright citizenship. Pursuant to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, those persons born in the United States become citizens upon their birth in this country. This means that even if one’s parents were not citizens of this country, that an infant would still be an American citizen if the child was born in the United States. President Trump is of the opinion that notwithstanding language in the US Constitution to this effect, that he has the power through the execution of an Executive Order to end birthright citizenship to infants whose parents are not citizens of our country. President Trump is essentially launching an attack against innocent children. This new policy follows the policy embarked upon last spring to separate children from their parents when they enter the United States seeking asylum. I don’t know when and if it will ever end.
Just yesterday, President Trump, in an interview on Fox News, announced once again that he was a Nationalist, and when provided an opportunity to clarify his remarks, he refused to do so even though he knows that there are White Nationalist racist organizations that identify with him and support him. He should repudiate their support and everything that they stand for, and use his best efforts to distance himself philosophically from these fringe groups. The reason he does not do so speaks for itself.
This morning, I was shocked and stunned once again by the tragic killing of what is now 11 people by a gunman at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Far too often, in recent years, we have heard about gunman entering churches and killing innocent people as they worshiped. I can recall being on the phone with my friend, NC Senator Malcom Graham, when he learned that his sister was one of the victims of the tragic killing of parishioners of a Black Church in Charleston, South Carolina. These types of senseless, random acts of violence are occurring far too frequently. Today, I heard that the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, had recorded a 57% increase this past year in acts of violence against Jews in our country. Apparently, the gunman, on this occasion, was apprehended by police officers who understood their duty to protect and serve, and four of them were unfortunately wounded. The gunman, once again, had an assault rifle as well as three sidearms.
We must, as a nation, have the political will to control and limit access to firearms and ammunition. Our leaders in Washington must also stop using divisive rhetoric that causes political extremists to feel comfortable spewing their hatred and engaging in violent acts against others. Unfortunately, our president, when questioned about this incident, felt that the answer to what occurred would’ve been best addressed by having security at the synagogue. We should not have to fortify our churches and synagogues to be safe. Instead, changing laws related to access to firearms, particularly assault weapons, is critical and necessary, as well as eliminating divisive political rhetoric.
I have seldom felt as proud as I did earlier today when it was announced that every elected official in Durham County had come together to voice their unanimous opposition to the six proposed constitutional amendments that are on the ballot for voter consideration. This includes Mayor Schewel, the Durham City Council, all County Commissioners, all School Board members, as well as all Soil and Water District Commissioners. I and Rep. Marcia Morey joined many of these elected officials today when they held a press conference to voice their opposition to these constitutional amendments which are unneeded, unnecessary, and rather than increasing the rights of our citizens, for the most part, they will erode the rights of many of us. I’d like to thank my friends and colleagues for standing up firmly and aggressively to voice their opposition to these amendments. I don’t think there is another county in the State of NC, though I certainly hope there is one, where all the political leadership has shown this type of enlightened political courage.