Saturday News: Defending the disenfranchised


GOVERNOR COOPER VETOES BURDENSOME VOTER ID BILL: In his veto message, Cooper said, “the proposed law puts up barriers to voting that will trap honest voters in confusion and discourage them with new rules, some of which haven’t even been written yet. Finally the fundamental flaw in the bill is its sinister and cynical origins: It was designed to suppress the rights of minority, poor and elderly voters. The cost of disenfranchising those voters or any citizens is too high, and the risk of taking away the fundamental right to vote is too great, for this law to take effect.” Several groups, including the ACLU, Common Cause NC, and Equality NC, encouraged Cooper to veto the voter ID bill. The Campus Vote Project of the Fair Elections Center, a voting rights group in Washington, D.C., asked Cooper this week to veto the bill because of the “absurd hurdles created” for colleges and universities that would want to provide students with IDs they could use at the polls.

MARK HARRIS ADMITS HE PERSONALLY HIRED MCCRAE DOWLESS: Republican Mark Harris confirmed to a Charlotte television station Friday that it was his decision to hire the Bladen County operative now at the center of a state investigation into 9th Congressional District election results. Harris, whose campaign has refused repeated interview requests since the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement declined to certify results in his race more than two weeks ago, sat for an interview Friday with WBTV. Harris said it was his decision to hire McCrae Dowless, who ran an absentee ballot operation for the campaign. He also said the decision came after Harris' 2016 primary loss to Congressman Robert Pittenger, the station reported. In that race, Todd Johnson, who came in third district-wide and has since been elected to the North Carolina Senate, won 221 out of 226 mail-in absentee ballots cast in Bladen County.

UNC BOG REJECTS COSTLY PLAN TO BUILD STRUCTURE FOR SILENT SAM: The UNC system Board of Governors rejected a recommendation Friday that UNC-Chapel Hill build a $5.3 million history center to house the disputed Silent Sam statue. Instead, a committee has been formed to come up with a new proposal for the Confederate monument by March 15. Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said the costly plan for the center was “pretty tough for a lot of us to swallow.” He also said the UNC board did not want to rush the decision. Smith named a committee of five Board of Governors members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill officials on a new plan. The members appointed to the group are Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho. Speaking later in a teleconference with reporters, UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt said she appreciated having more time now to come up with another relocation plan. She conceded that the recommendation she and the campus trustees put forth earlier this month for the new history center “hasn’t satisfied anyone, and we recognize that.”

TEXAS JUDGE RULES MAIN ELEMENTS OF OBAMACARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL: The Affordable Care Act was gutted by a Texas federal judge in a ruling that casts uncertainty on insurance coverage for millions of U.S. residents. The decision Friday finding core provisions of “Obamacare” unconstitutional comes just before the end of a six-week open enrollment period for the program in 2019 and underscores a divide between Republicans who have long sought to invalidate the law and Democrats who fought to keep it in place. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth agreed with a coalition of Republican states led by Texas that he had to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, the signature health care overhaul by President Barack Obama, after Congress last year zeroed out a key provision — the tax penalty for not complying with the requirement to buy insurance. The decision is almost certain to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Texas and an alliance of 19 states argued to the judge that they have been harmed by an increase in the number of people on state-supported insurance rolls. They claimed that when Congress repealed the tax penalty last year, it eliminated the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale for finding the ACA constitutional in 2012.

UKRAINE WARNS OF LARGE RUSSIAN MILITARY BUILDUP ON BORDER: Ukrainian officials have been raising alarms about what they say is a huge buildup of Russian troops, tanks and artillery pieces along their border that could signal preparations for an invasion. While the Russian military presence along the border is undisputed, some analysts have questioned its characterization as a buildup that might telegraph an escalation in the war in eastern Ukraine. Russia has quartered thousands of troops in the area for nearly five years. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while broadly voicing support for Ukraine, have not corroborated the claim of troops massing at the border. The Ukrainians have pointed to commercially available satellite images showing rows of tanks and armored personnel carriers at two sites in southern Russia, and military transport planes parked at an air base in Crimea. Russia’s southern border with Ukraine, an expanse of wheat fields, grasslands and reedy marshes in the Don River delta, has been a crucible of military activity for years, making it unclear what, exactly, Ukrainian officials are referring to as new deployments.