COURT RULES NC ELECTIONS BOARD BE DISSOLVED TODAY: The North Carolina board investigating allegations of ballot fraud in a still-unresolved congressional race could be disbanded Friday under a state court ruling in a protracted legal battle about how the panel operates. A three-judge state court panel ruled Thursday to allow the state Board of Elections to dissolve at noon Friday, ahead of a scheduled Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing into the 9th district congressional race. It's not clear when a new election board could be put in place if the ruling stands. The court previously found the board's makeup unconstitutional in a protracted legal battle launched when the Republican-controlled legislature altered the board in 2016 in a power struggle with the Democratic governor. The court had ruled earlier this year to allow the board to remain in place until Friday while it investigates the congressional race. The latest ruling came just after lawmakers enacted a new law to largely restore the board to how it operated before 2016.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY SINE DEAD AFTER VETO OVERRIDES: The General Assembly's 2018 "short session" finally came to a close Thursday afternoon, but not before lawmakers overrode two more of Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes. Cooper last Friday vetoed legislation revamping the state board of elections and the annual "technical corrections" bill that includes policy changes as well as technical fixes and clarifications to previous bills. Although he praised the plan to return the elections board to the structure and responsibilities it had before lawmakers started tinkering with it two years ago, he criticized a provision of the bill that would make investigations of potential campaign finance violations confidential. As for the technical corrections bill, he balked at provisions allowing any charter schools run by four towns near Charlotte to participate in the State Health Plan and the state pension fund and rolling back some stormwater regulations.
SHOCKINGLY LOW NUMBER OF NEW STUDENTS IN WAKE COUNTY SCHOOLS: The Wake County school system grew by only 42 students this school year — a shockingly low number that’s raising questions about the future of North Carolina’s largest district. School and county planners had projected a gain of nearly 1,900 students this year, which would have continued a trend of sustained growth since the 1980s that has made Wake one of the largest school systems in the nation. But with growth being almost non-existent this year, planners are trying to determine what happened and how that will affect the building and operating of schools. In the short term, Wake will likely have to return some state money because the district had been funded based on the projected enrollment. It could impact how much money the Wake County Board of Commissioners provides in the budget in 2019. The slower growth could also change plans to put a local school construction bond referendum on the ballot in 2020. Voters approved a $548 million school construction bond referendum in November.
RESOLVING SHUTDOWN WILL BE THE FIRST TASK OF NEW DEMOCRATIC HOUSE MAJORITY: Republican leaders gave up hope on Thursday of reopening the government before the new year, leaving the border wall impasse to House Democrats as they assume the majority next week — and presenting Representative Nancy Pelosi with her first major challenge as speaker. House Democrats, who take control on Wednesday, are weighing three approaches to getting funds flowing, none of which would include additional money for President Trump’s proposed wall along the southwestern border. Whichever path they choose, party leaders said they would vote promptly on Jan. 3, hoping to project the image of Democrats as a steadying hand in Washington even as Republicans try to blame Ms. Pelosi and her party for the shutdown and lax border control. “We will vote swiftly to reopen government and show that Democrats will govern responsibly in stark contrast to this chaotic White House,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement.
SYRIAN FORCES MOVE TO BLOCK TURKEY FROM ATTACKING KURDS: Syria's military announced Friday it entered the flash-point Kurdish-held town of Manbij and raised the national flag there, where Turkey has threatened an offensive. A Kurdish official said the government troops arrived only at the front lines. Ilham Ahmed, the senior Kurdish official, said the U.S. troops who patrol the town and the tense front line with Turkey-backed fighters have not withdrawn from Manbij. She said an agreement is being worked out with the Russians and the Syrian government that in case of a full U.S. withdrawal, the government would take over. "The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ahmed said. "If the Turks' excuse is the (Kurdish militia), they will leave their posts to the government." The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect that all sides are scrambling to reach an agreement on how to replace U.S. troops following the surprise announcement by President Donald Trump.