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Posts published in “Election 2020”

Fayetteville House race heats up, Democrat outraises incumbent by $600,000

With less than three weeks until Election Day, it’s game on for candidates in North Carolina’s most competitive congressional district. 

For the second time this year, Democratic challenger Pat Timmons-Goodson raised significantly more money than her opponent, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. She raked in nearly $1.8 million in contributions between July 1 and Sept. 30 with the vast majority — nearly $1.7 million — coming from individual donors. 

Republican incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson brought in just over $1.1 million, with more than $660,000 from party committees and PACs. Timmons-Goodson had previously outraised him during the second quarter filing period by about $517,000. 

The Democrat shelled out more money than she raised, spending upwards of $1.8 million  in the third quarter. She’s left with $612,000 in cash on hand.

Hudson spent almost $1.4 million this quarter. But in contrast to his opponent, he still has more than $1.5 million in cash on hand heading into the race’s final stretch.

Timmons-Goodson confirmed her financial haul on Twitter over a week before the FEC released official numbers. Hudson’s campaign did not release numbers before the Oct. 15 deadline, which perhaps foreshadowed his surprisingly low numbers.

“People who give money to campaigns invest smartly,” said Chris Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University. “So the fact that she can put up those kinds of numbers says that there’s, at least, kind of a proof of concept—an idea that’s possible.” Now, for Timmons-Goodson, it’s a matter of turning those dollars into votes, he added.

The gap in fundraising isn’t the only reason to think things are tightening up in the 8th Congressional District, which stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs through Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Here’s why this race could still be up for grabs:

Advertising is heating up — and voters are noticing

Yard signs and mailers and ads, oh my! 

“It’s getting aggressive with the advertising here,” said George Breece, an Army veteran and former state representative who lives in Fayetteville. He said he gets three to four mailers a week (some that are “as big as a damn car”), receives political phone calls and gets inundated with ads on radio and TV.

Both candidates spent more than $1.1 million on digital, radio and TV advertising, according to the most recent FEC filings. Factoring in mailers would bump the total even higher.

It’s typical for campaigns to advertise more as the election draws closer, Cooper said. But when there’s exponential growth in the amount of ad spending, that’s a sign of a competitive race.

“It has been and remains the most competitive district in the state,” he said of the 8th District.

‘Judge Softie’: Hudson releases first attack ad against Timmons-Goodson

Hudson’s latest ad brands Timmons-Goodson as “soft on crime” and assigns her the pejorative moniker “Judge Softie.” 

After opening on a photograph of the Democrat in judicial robes behind a court bench, the ad’s female narrator alleges Timmons-Goodson “let a man walk free who stole half a million dollars from his church” and “opposed putting tracking bracelets on sex offenders because it would ‘add to their shame.’” 

“Timmons-Goodson — too soft on crime, too liberal for Congress,” coos the narrator near the end of the video. 

Hudson’s campaign manager Robert Andrews told The 9th Street Journal in August that the campaign would focus its energy on Hudson’s accomplishments rather than attacking his Democratic opponent. 

“People always want to see going on the attack, or that sort of thing,” Andrews said in that August interview. “That’s not the deal right now. We just want to make sure that folks know who Richard Hudson is, especially in those new parts of the district.”

Andrews did not return phone calls seeking clarification on the change in tactics, but the shift likely means Hudson’s campaign views the race as more competitive than originally thought. 

“Hudson running attack ads is a sign that it’s possible that he could lose, and that he thinks that,” Cooper said. “There’s no need to get in the ditch if you don’t have to.”

Toss-up territory? ‘Lean Republican’ rating subject to change, national analysts say

As soon as the legislature released new congressional maps in 2019, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed Hudson’s rating from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.” The new maps, which axed Republican-heavy Rowan County and added the rest of Cumberland County, made the 8th District competitive for the first time since Hudson unseated Democrat Larry Kissel in 2012. 

Now ranked as “lean Republican,” the 8th District is the only seat in North Carolina from either party that’s ranked as anything other than “safe” or “likely.”

“Back in ‘08, the only seat that flipped in North Carolina — it was a Republican to Democrat flip — was in the 8th District when Larry Kissel beat Robin Hayes,” said Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “It could well be the only seat that flips again.”

Coleman said he agreed with Cooper that the 8th District is the most competitive congressional race in the state. In order to move it to “toss-up,” he and his colleagues Kyle Kondik and Larry Sabato would want to see public polling that shows Timmons-Goodson ahead, or statewide polling that shows Biden ahead, which could hint at a wave election. Both have emerged in recent weeks.

“On election night, when I’m watching the results come in, the first district I’m going to look at in North Carolina is going to be district eight,” he said. 

At top, incumbent Richard Hudson and Pat Timmons-Goodson are vying for the 8th Congressional District. Photos from their campaigns.

Early voting starts with long lines, passionate voters

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Thousands of Durham residents mobilized for the first day of early voting on Thursday, eager to cast their ballots in what some said is the most important election in their lifetime. 

They began lining up long before the polls opened at 8 a.m., warmed in the morning chill by adrenaline and their face masks. By noon, four of the 14 Durham polls reported wait times of at least two hours. But things lightened up in the afternoon and the average wait time at nine of the county sites was 30 minutes or less.

More than 80 voters lined up by 8 a.m. at the Karsh Alumni and Visitor’s Center at Duke, many wearing Biden-Harris hats. Some were just eager to feel the satisfaction of voting. Others said this day felt like it couldn’t come fast enough. 

“We’ve been waiting to vote for four years,” said Priscilla Wald, a Duke English professor who arrived at the university’s early voting site at 7 a.m. She and former Duke professor Julie Tetel Andresen went to the polling place at the Durham County Main Library first, but by 6:45 a.m., the site had already amassed a crowd of more than 30 voters.

“We want to make sure our vote counts and we get this guy out of office,” Wald said. “There is no question that this is the most important election of my life.”

When the doors opened at 8 a.m., the line erupted in cheers.

As a swing state, North Carolina plays an outsized role in the election. Andresen hopes the predicted increase in turnout among young voters will help elect Joe Biden, who she thinks will bring fresh leadership.

“I’m so tired of these old farts in Washington running things,” she said. “I’m ready for the next generation.”

Several voters said they considered voting absentee by mail, but wanted the gratification of casting their ballot in person.

“I feel like I’m satisfying my civic responsibility by being here,” said Ron Stubbs, a retired Duke employee. In big black letters, his mask read, “SCIENCE.”

This is the first year that Duke has held its early voting site at the new Karsh alumni center. The building, with tall ceilings and plenty of parking, is an ideal polling place during a pandemic, said Erin Kramer, Duke executive director of media and public affairs.

“We want to encourage as many people to come and to get them through as quickly as possible, but we also need to make sure it’s a safe experience for everyone,” she said.

Outside each polling place, the ground is marked with tape to direct voters to stand six feet apart. All poll workers are required to wear masks, and can provide masks to voters who don’t bring their own. Hand sanitizer stations and frequent wipe-downs of the ballot booths will ensure each site is clean and safe for a high volume of voters.

Karsh wasn’t the only early voting site with a long line when the polls opened at 8 a.m. The line at the Durham County Main Library wrapped through the parking lot, boasting well over 100 voters. Just a few blocks away, nearly 70 voters waited outside the Criminal Justice Resource Center.

Voting tips

The North Carolina State Board of Elections created an early voting site locator with live wait times so voters can anticipate the lines at polling places across the county. Durham has 14 early voting sites, and voters may visit any one of the sites to cast their ballot.

For voters experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, as well as disabled voters, each polling site also offers curbside service so voters may fill out their ballots from the safety of their vehicle.

Early voting in North Carolina runs Oct. 15-31. Find the hours of operation for each polling site here.

At top, voters lined up Thursday outside the Durham Main Library. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

In first (and only) debate, gubernatorial candidates clash on schools, economy and masks

On the eve of North Carolina’s first day of early voting, Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican challenger Lt. Gov. Dan Forest debated issues from health care to taxes to hurricanes. But much of the debate centered on their most contentious disagreement: how to handle the coronavirus. 

Although Cooper is leading in the polls, he attacked Forest from the outset. The majority of polls show Cooper leading by at least 10 points, and a WRAL survey released Wednesday had him up by 13 points. 

Face to face for the first time, they debated face masks and schools. Cooper defended his mask mandate against Forest’s claims that they are not proven to be effective. Forest argued that children should return to classrooms, and Cooper defended his phased reopening. 

During the hour-long debate, which was sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, they also clashed on how fast Cooper was reopening the state’s economy.

“Talking about masks is a great cover for what he really doesn’t want to talk about, the over million and a half people that he has left unemployed,” Forest said. 

“You’re not just ignoring science, you’re ignoring common sense,” Cooper replied. “You cannot wish the pandemic away.” 

Forest acknowledged the threat of COVID-19 for older people and those with underlying health conditions. He emphasized the danger the pandemic poses to people in nursing homes and the state’s most vulnerable residents. “That’s where we should be spending all of our time and attention,” he said. “We should allow healthy people to get back [to] life.” 

He said children are 17 times more likely to be impacted by the flu than coronavirus, a claim PolitiFact has rated mostly false.

Cooper countered that protecting the most vulnerable people requires cooperation from everyone. “The problem is, Dan, you treat nursing homes like an island,” he said. 

“When you have people out there discouraging masks, when you have people out there trying to prove that there’s not a pandemic, then you end up having more people who are infected. It could be a nursing home staff member [or] a visitor,” he said. 

Above: Plexiglas wasn’t the only thing that separated Roy Cooper from Dan Forest in the gubernatorial debate. (Screenshot from WRAL broadcast.)

Analysis: Cawthorn employs a national ad strategy while Davis stays local

The poetry of American politics is now written in emojis and hashtags. In North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, the emojis are wavy American flags and the hashtags are Western North Carolina towns. 

The animated star-spangled banners belong to Madison Cawthorn, the Republican candidate, who uses the icons in subtle national calls for financial support to galvanize potential donors who don’t even live in his district. That red, white, and blue might work particularly well among the GOP donor pool. A 2007 Pew Research Center  report showed that 73% of Republicans say they display the flag at home, in their office, or on their car, while only 55% of Democrats do. 

In contrast, the Facebook ads Democrat Moe Davis directs to voters within his district come complete with hashtags denoting local cities and photo backdrops of Western North Carolina’s rolling blue mountains. 

Although one might expect the 37-year age gap between the congressional candidates to be reflected in their ad campaigns on Facebook, each candidate employs their own savvy strategy to target their intended audience — one national, one local. 

The two candidates primarily focus their advertising on Facebook, investing much more money on the platform than Google and Youtube. Davis is also running ads on WLOS-TV. At the time of publishing, Cawthorn had spent $163,756 on Facebook, and Davis had spent $36,816. 

Cawthorn: A National Approach

The moment President Donald Trump phoned Cawthorn from Air Force One to call his primary win “beautiful” was the moment Cawthorn launched his pro-Trump brand as a valiant warrior against “radical leftists.” 

“Pro-Trump, Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-Law Enforcement,” read the caption of one ad posted in August.

Cawthorn’s appeal to Republicans on a broader, national level is evident in his villainization of high-profile Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez make more appearances in Cawthorn’s Facebook ads than Davis does. One ad pictures Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez with Rep. Ilhan Omar, all covered in a monochromatic blood-red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. 

An ad posted by Madison Cawthorn’s campaign shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar covered in a red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. (Courtesy of the Facebook Ad Library)

“Your support will help me combat Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and AOC,” reads the caption of another ad. 

Cawthorn’s Facebook ads didn’t mention his opponent by name until September. However, he recently launched a website and Facebook community (currently four followers strong) called Moe Taxes, dedicated solely to attacking Davis. 

Cawthorn’s strategy to garner support on a national level is underscored by Facebook ads utilizing buzzwords and phrases like “radical leftists,” “left-wing mob,” and “the socialist Left.” This language further polarizes voters, signals his alignment with the Republican agenda, and makes his ads generalizable to a broad audience beyond Western North Carolina. 

What’s the point of focusing on voters that won’t even have Cawthorn’s name on their ballot? Money. Like a signature at the end of a document, nearly all of Cawthorn’s ads on Facebook have a bold box in either red, white, or blue that says “DONATE NOW.” 

That strategy seems to be working. Compared with Davis, a greater proportion of Cawthorn’s individual contributions come from out-of-state, according to financial records from the Federal Election Commission analyzed by Open Secrets.

These advertising tactics and fundraising successes are in conflict with how Cawthorn has said congressional elections should run.

“I believe I should only be able to fundraise inside of District 11. That would mean that I owe my successes only to the people that I represent,” he said at a Sept. 9 debate.

Davis: A Local Approach

Davis is keeping it local, often addressing Western North Carolina voters directly in ad videos or captions. 

Unlike the all-encompassing American flag that Cawthorn garnishes his ads with, Davis applies hashtags, used to increase engagement and draw in audiences of interest, for specific counties in District 11.

#asheville #brevardnc #hendersonvillenc #wnc #nc #waynesvillenc #sylvanc #cullowhee #franklinnc,” were among some hashtags Davis used in ads where he talked about legalizing marijana and making Western North Carolina the “epicenter for alternative energy.” 

The tagged locales paint a clear picture of Davis’s targeted region. He’s focused on the “#blueridgemountains” area.

Those hallmark mountains also appear as Davis’s background for ads, further signaling his focus on Western North Carolina.

In a Facebook ad that ran regularly from August through September, Davis flaunted a poll conducted by his campaign that put the two in a “DEAD HEAT!”

A Facebook ad posted by Moe Davis’s campaign declared the District 11 race a “DEAD HEAT!”

The graphic shows Davis and his campaign logo, which features mountains, with 40% of the vote and Cawthorn, his name in plain black text, with 42% of the vote. 

In the caption, Davis distilled the choice down to “a 25-year veteran,” or a “25-year old QAnon believer.” 

On Oct. 8, Davis’s active Facebook ads were almost exclusively shown in North Carolina. Many of Cawthorn’s active ad campaigns were primarily viewed in California, Texas, and Florida, while several were primarily viewed in North Carolina, according to the Facebook Ad Library.

The local focus that anchors the content and targeting of Davis’s Facebook ads extends through his campaign. At the Sept. 9 debate, he made it clear he’s staying in the district. 

“Since the first of the year, I’ve left the district for one night. My opponent’s been jetting around the country with the Trump kids and up in Washington,” said Davis.

Here’s what Dan Forest really says about face masks

Last month, Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted an attack ad dramatically depicting a quote from his opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest: “I would lift the mask mandate for the state.” Forest would set North Carolina back in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Cooper wrote in his caption. 

52 minutes later, Forest tweeted the exact same graphic. He didn’t need a caption to make his point.

In a governor’s race dominated by the pandemic, face masks are a divisive symbol. Cooper has criticized Forest for ignoring the guidance of experts on masks, but Forest is not shy about his opinions.

On the campaign trail, the Republican challenger has said that masks are not effective and shouldn’t be required in the classroom. 

His comments often focus on individual freedom and an alleged lack of a scientific consensus. And some of his remarks suggest he may not believe in scientific conclusions at all.

Individual freedom and responsibility

Cooper, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mandy Cohen, the state secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, would all say the responsible decision is the same for everyone: wear a mask. But Forest said he believes masks are only important for some. 

I would lift the mask mandate for the state and allow individual freedom to decide whether [North Carolinians] wear a mask.” Forest said in a Sept. 16 press conference. “There are people that have pre-existing conditions … and they need to protect themselves.”

Health experts say that masks are not as much for the wearer’s protection as they are for others. “COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected,” the CDC states on its website. “That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear masks in public settings,” the website reads.  

Forest also said he doesn’t think masks are necessary in schools, but added that they should be worn “ if that is what the parent determines is best for their student.”

During a virtual forum on education, Cooper criticized Forest’s comments. “It was stunning to hear my opponent, the lieutenant governor, say last week that as governor he would fill up every classroom immediately with no safety guidelines and no mask requirement,” Cooper said. “Not only is that wrong, it’s dangerous.” 

Forest called Cooper’s attack against him “character assassination.” 

Despite the statewide mandate, many of Forest’s supporters have accepted his invitation to make their own decisions. Pictures and videos from Forest’s in-person campaign events rarely show masks.

During an Aug. 4 campaign stop in Lexington, WXII News asked him about the lack of face masks in the crowd. 

“When we have events we have masks at the door, anybody that wants one can put one on,” Forest said. “A lot of people don’t show up with masks.”

Masks and social distancing also work against his method of campaigning, Forest said. “We shake as many hands as we can and we meet as many people as possible. It’s just the way we’ve always run a campaign,” he said. “If I’m talking to the crowd, I don’t wear a mask. Can’t talk with a mask on.”

Scientific uncertainty and public confusion

As Forest encourages all North Carolinians to make their own choice about face masks, he laments a perceived lack of conclusive scientific data that might aid them in their decision. The public is confused, Forest said. There are too many mixed messages about the efficacy of masks.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, this was true. Anthony Fauci and the CDC said that masks were not necessary for healthy individuals back in March.

But public guidance has since shifted. The CDC and other public health experts are now clear in recommending face masks for everyone in public spaces.

“I think there’s just a lot of confusion out there with people,” Forest said. “That’s why you see some people wearing them and some people not.”

In a comment PolitiFact rated false, Forest said that masks are not effective with viruses and have never been used with a coronavirus. 

There have been multiple comprehensive studies at the deepest level, held to scientific standards, under controlled circumstances in controlled environments, that have all said for decades masks do not work with viruses,” he said in a July 4 interview.

Forest has cast doubt on the science of closing schools, too. “There is no solid science or data anywhere that suggests that our kids should not be in the classroom right now,” he said. Across the country, outbreaks have appeared in schools that prematurely resumed in-person instruction.

Franklin High School in Macon County, North Carolina was forced to suspend in-person instruction after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus. Students or staff members at six of the 11 schools in Macon County School District have tested positive, The Charlotte Observer reported

But if there’s science that suggests schools and businesses can reopen safely, Forest is quick to rely on it. “The fear and panic campaign continues to go on in North Carolina and that’s unfortunate,” he said in an interview with conservative YouTuber John Woodard, “because there’s plenty of data out there that would suggest that we as a state can live with this virus and can get peoples’ livelihoods back.” 

Forest’s stance on face masks may be rooted in his opinion on science itself. Science isn’t about reaching a consensus, he said, it’s about skepticism. 

Science is not a one size fits all,” Forest said in a recent press conference. “All science is based on skepticism, and you need to have skeptics.”

The “fear and panic campaign” is threatening that foundation, according to Forest. “If anybody is ever skeptical of anything that goes on that doesn’t meet the narrative of the left right now, then they are shut down,” he said. 

Forest said that hundreds of doctors have called to say that their thoughts and findings on face masks are being ignored. He said he’s trying to find accurate, reliable information.

“I’m not a scientist nor a doctor, I just try to do my best to filter through it,” he said. “Just like everybody else.”

At top: Forest poses with employees outside Parker’s, a popular restaurant recently criticized for allegedly not enforcing mask use among workers. Via Dan Forest’s Facebook page.

Dueling messages (and a little lawn mowing) in Fayetteville congressional race

One candidate offers to mow your lawn. The other brings you home to Momma. 

As Election Day nears, the two contenders in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District are rolling out new video ads to set themselves apart. 

Ads have always played a key campaign role, but the slowdown in events because of the coronavirus means the targeted messages through videos and social media are even more crucial.

Ads from both Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson and incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Hudson stress how they’ll serve voters of the 8th District, which stretches from east of Charlotte through Cumberland County. Hudson’s ads focus largely on his congressional accomplishments, while Timmons-Goodson’s are more likely to criticize her opponent’s record and spotlight their differences on the issues.

“We want people to know that they have a choice,” said Timmons-Goodson’s campaign manager Matt Vari. The campaign currently has ads on TV, radio, and Facebook as well as by mail. 

In her latest TV ad, entitled “Face,” Democratic challenger Pat Timmons-Goodson pays a socially-distanced and masked visit to her mother.

In her most recent TV ad, Timmons-Goodson tries to humanize the burden of COVID-19 by paying a socially-distanced and masked visit to her 85-year-old mother Beulah Timmons in Fayetteville. Unlike her first ad, which highlighted her military upbringing and judicial career, Timmons-Goodson this time criticizes Hudson’s response to the virus and his stance on healthcare.

Her tagline: “I’m Pat Timmons-Goodson, and my momma and I approve this message,” she says at the end of the clip with a big laugh. 

Hudson’s first TV ad initially looks like a lawn care commercial. A man (who turns out to be Hudson) is seen mowing a pristine yard while two women on a porch discuss Hudson’s congressional accomplishments for military families and veterans. 

“That’s our congressman,” one of the women says in admiration near the end of the ad. 

“Fort Bragg’s congressman,” says the other, correcting her friend. “He does everything!”

Republican incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson promoted his latest TV ad on Facebook by issuing a contest: Donate to his campaign for the chance to have him mow your lawn.

On the same day the ad started, Hudson launched a contest on his Facebook page: Donate $10 to his campaign and you enter a drawing for him to mow your lawn. Or the winner can nominate a military family for his “lawn service.”

Hudson’s campaign manager Robert Andrews said their strategy was to avoid mentioning or criticizing Timmons-Goodson. Rather, the main goal was introducing Hudson to voters who were new to the 8th District since congressional maps were redrawn.

“People always want to see going on the attack, or that sort of thing,” Andrews said in an August interview with The 9th Street Journal. “That’s not the deal right now. We just want to make sure that folks know who Richard Hudson is, especially in those new parts of the district.”

While the candidates’ TV ads may strike similar tones, their Facebook offerings diverge. Of the 10 Facebook ads that were active in the last week, all of them asked viewers to donate money or help his campaign. Seven of them emphasized the critical stakes of the election by capitalizing words like “URGENT” and adding exclamation points.

True to Andrews’ August prediction, Hudson has no ads attacking Timmons-Goodson’s judicial or public service record. But the campaign does criticize her prominent Democratic supporters such as former President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

“My opponent has officially been endorsed by Obama,” reads one Facebook ad that launched in mid-August. “Stand against the liberal mob and sign our petition to keep socialism out & keep North Carolina RED!”

Hudson indirectly criticizes Timmons-Goodson by attacking her prominent Democratic supporters, such as former President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Timmons-Goodson’s Facebook ads give her bio and strike a contrast with Hudson’s. Some of the ads feature news articles and op-eds about her candidacy. (Four of Timmons-Goodson’s 20 active ads contain an exclamation point.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in May added Timmons-Goodson to its selective “Red to Blue” program, which provides fundraising and organizational support to candidates in highly competitive districts. But the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball still say the race leans Republican.

The National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to several calls from asking for comment about the race. 

Timmons-Goodson outraised Hudson nearly 3-to-1 in the second quarter, according to June filings from the Federal Election Commission. But overall, Hudson has the greater total of $2.3 million raised, compared to Timmons-Goodson’s roughly $1.1 million, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. 

‘I feel like nothing’s changed’: Black voters seek change through Triad congressional race

The Woolworth’s store on South Elm Street marks the start of downtown Greensboro. Its lunch counters, the catalyst of a national wave of sit-ins in 1960, are part of civil rights history that pulses through the city.

Sixty years later, there are new signs in downtown Greensboro that the movement for racial justice is still underway — and unfinished. The words “Black Lives Matter” are everywhere, including South Elm Street, painted onto the asphalt between February One Place and Washington Street.

In North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, some voters will be carrying those words to the polls this year. The recently redrawn district is predicted to vote overwhelmingly blue — Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is highly favored — but for some of its Black residents, whose desires are neither monolithic nor zeroed on police, words are not enough. Wary of sweeping campaign commitments, they are seeking material improvements for their communities.

“I feel like nothing’s changed. I feel like it’s just more in the spotlight,” V. R. Baker, who has lived in Greensboro for 23 years, said. But national protests following the police killing of George Floyd have shifted her perspective. “Demonstrating was beautiful because it woke people up. It was like an earthquake that woke people up.” 

“When the George Floyd situation came through, it just opened up old wounds,” said Jaye Webb, chair of the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission. 

For the Triad area, the wounds are deep and many: the 1979 killings of five residents by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party during a march supporting Black textile workers where police failed to intervene, the 2018 police killing of Marcus Deon Smith, the 2019 killing of John Neville in Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem, long-unmet needs for basic community care and investment.

“Politicians, they say a lot of things, but they don’t necessarily act on them,” Ryan Upton, a junior at North Carolina A&T State University, said. “You can say it in front of us, but then when we’re going back to work and living our everyday busy lives, it’s like, okay, who really is doing it?”

The candidates have staked out distinct positions on the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement after Floyd’s killing, Manning wrote: “Too often, too many act as if black lives don’t matter. They do.”

Her campaign has neither discussed race further on its website, nor run Facebook or Google ads about race, according to online databases. 

During an interview with The 9th Street Journal, Lee Haywood, the Republican candidate, said: “I’m for ‘all lives matter.’ Yes, Black lives are included in there as well, but all lives matter.”

His campaign has not discussed race further on its website, though his first “issue” is public safety. His campaign has run one Facebook ad about the Black Lives Matter movement, which reads: “I belong to the oldest Black Lives Matter group in the nation: the Republican Party!” 

The candidates have not made clear what actions they plan to take in office against structural racism and police brutality.

Manning supports a ban on hogtying, the police practice that killed Smith and Neville, and she endorses the Justice in Policing Act, the House Democrats’ police reform bill, which she called “an important first step” in a statement without enumerating subsequent steps.

Haywood does not have a public plan. “The Republican Party, we’re not promising the Black people anything,” he said. “We’re not promising any checks. We’re not promising any freebies. We’re going to leave you alone as much as possible.”

In this moment of racial reckoning, though, Black voters say that they are not asking for “checks” or “freebies,” but for the government to repair systemic problems and tangibly serve communities in need.

“The problem is so deep-rooted. I would say, focus on mental health, expanding public education and the resources that it has, and also trying to secure these families that may not even have a place to live,” said Demetri Banks, a senior at A&T, referencing the low-income neighborhoods surrounding the university. “If we focus on that, everything will trickle down.”

Black voters interviewed by The 9th Street Journal said that when defunding the police is mentioned, it is about a need to realign budget priorities and redistribute funding to properly address social gaps.

“‘Defund the police,’ I feel like, is a stretch because they’re still needed, but I feel like if you’re going to give the money and resources to one emergency field, you should give it to the other,” said Christopher Slade, who has lived in Greensboro for 19 years. “If you have the resources to invest in police, tear gas, rubber bullets, then I feel like you should be able to invest in hospitals and help COVID research.”

Joy Kirk, who has lived near High Point for three years, has worried as much about her children’s interactions with the police as she has about her children’s safety after a recent rash of shootings in Greensboro and High Point.

“If the system wasn’t set up the way it was and designed for us to fail to begin with, there would be less Black-on-Black crime. But that justifies someone else, that’s held to a higher stature, to shoot and kill us?” she said.

In Webb’s work with the advisory commission, community members have urged broader investment in employment opportunities, healthcare, and crime prevention programs such as midnight basketball. 

“I don’t think we can allow police to police the police. I think if we don’t make moves on that, we could see the next Minneapolis,” he said.

For Webb and the commission, those moves involve increased transparency: repealing laws that could conceal police misconduct, establishing nationwide police decertification records, and making records about police personnel and correctional facilities widely accessible.

“It’s not in the matter of defunding the police from existence. I think it is reappropriating funds into other opportunities that would allow for communities to have resources,” he said. “Hopefully, our elected officials will understand not only that this is the right time, and that it’s not going away no time soon.”

One month before Election Day, poll worker needs are largely filled

Damon Circosta may be able to sleep better now. The chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections said a month ago that his biggest worry in the middle of the night was whether counties would be able to recruit enough poll workers. But it appears most counties have met or are on track to fill their needs, according to a spreadsheet posted on the state elections website.  

Elections officials were concerned because many people in the prime demographic group for poll workers – 65-70 year-old retirees – are expected to stay at home this year because of risks from the coronavirus. 

But state and local recruiting efforts for “Democracy Heroes” seem to have worked.

 “There’s been no one in any county really contacting us saying they’re in dire trouble,” said Noah Grant, the elections communication specialist for the board of elections. 

 Among the counties with full staffing: Durham – so much that the county is now rejecting poll worker applications. 

“We have had overwhelming interest from the community and expect all voting sites to be fully staffed,” the Durham County Board of Elections wrote in an email to interested applicants on Sep. 29. 

It takes between 25,000 to 30,000 workers across the state to run the election, according to Grant. To meet this need, officials began recruitment in May and June, with an increased push in July. Facebook helped North Carolina and other states through targeted ads and News Feed messages with links to the poll worker application. 

Grant said he didn’t know the demographics of registered poll workers in each county but that many previous volunteers are still helping again this year. 

“A lot of the people that are poll workers are very dedicated to the process of serving and have done it for years, he said. “This wasn’t going to stop them.” 

He said there will be safety precautions at all at polling locations. Poll workers will have personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, and locations will be frequently sanitized. There also will be dividers to minimize contact with voters.

When The 9th Street Journal asked about details in the spreadsheet on Friday, Grant said it was last updated on Sep. 21 and was outdated and incomplete due to a lack of response from county board of election departments. But many counties, including Wake are marked on it as fully covered. 

The effort also got a boost from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, which is offering employees three days of community service leave to work in the election. 

Although most needs are met, the state is continuing to target counties to build a reserve of volunteers through Facebook advertisements and OSHR emails. These counties include: Anson, Ashe, Avery, Beaufort, Caswell, Chowan, Cumberland, Dare, Duplin, Graham, Hoke, Johnston, Lenoir, Montgomery, Northampton, Rutherford, Stanly, Wilkes and Watauga. 

Yet one month to election day, Grant’s biggest fear is one that is out of his control: an outbreak of the virus.

It’s not a fear that we’re not going to have enough workers because of an outbreak,” he said. “We just don’t want to see anybody get hurt on the job or go through this because you’re volunteering in the election.”

North Carolina voters can fix most deficient ballots, unless judge intervenes

Editor’s Note: A federal judge on Saturday blocked changes to North Carolina’s absentee voting process, placing a temporary restraining order on the Sept. 22 State Board of Elections settlement that allowed voters to cure ballots with missing witness information by signing an affidavit. The announcement affects the following story in that instead of mailing cure certifications to voters whose ballots had missing witness information, county boards of elections will now hold those ballots while courts determine the next step. We’ll update this story with future developments. 

As much as 40% of the state electorate will vote by mail this year. But don’t screw up if you want your vote counted. 

Historically, three in ten absentee ballots have been thrown out because they do not meet necessary guidelines, said Gunther Peck, Duke history professor and voting rights activist. Now, more voters who make mistakes on their ballots will get a second chance to make it count. 

A joint motion filed last Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court revised the statewide ballot curing process so voters can simply sign an affidavit to fix the most common mistake in absentee ballots — incomplete witness information. Previous guidelines required voters to cast a new ballot. 

In North Carolina, a witness must certify that a specific voter completed the ballot by providing their name, birthday, address and signature on it. The North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans filed a lawsuit on Aug. 10 demanding various changes to the absentee voting process, including suspending the witness requirement for single-adult households. The organization and the North Carolina State Board of Elections agreed in the Sept. 22 settlement that the witness requirement will remain, but ballots without complete witness information can be cured through a cure certification, or affidavit.

When a voter slips up, the county board sends them a cure certification form. The form explains that the voter missed information in their ballot and asks that they provide a signature to remedy the deficiency. 

State guidelines require that county boards physically mail and email the cure certification to the voter, who should only return one form. If the county board does not have the voter’s email address on file, election officials are obligated to give the voter a call. 

The following deficiencies qualify for a cure certification, according to the state board of elections

  • Voter did not sign Voter Certification
  • Voter signed in the wrong place
  • Witness or assistant signed in the wrong place
  • Witness or assistant did not print address
  • Witness or assistant did not sign
  • Witness or assistant signed on the wrong line
Voters will use cure certification forms, like this sample form from Durham County, to address deficiencies in their absentee ballots, now including deficiencies in witness information.

The certification can be returned to the county board by mail, fax, email, or commercial carrier. Voters can also drop off the form in person at their county board’s office, an option that should be taken into consideration given U.S. Postal Service delays and the number of days until Nov. 3.

Mailed certifications and ballots that arrive in the county board office after Nov. 3 should be postmarked by Election Day. Certifications will only be counted if they are received by Nov. 12.

In the case of less common mistakes, such as ballots arriving in open envelopes, county boards would issue the voter a new ballot. 

WRAL reported that federal judge William Osteen warned that the changes the state board made to witness requirements for absentee ballots do not have his approval. Rumblings from the Republican-appointed judge against simplifying the absentee voting process have yet to turn into action, and county board offices are still mailing and emailing voters cure certifications. 

As of Sept. 29, hundreds of ballots across the Triangle are deficient. 

In Durham County, 387 of the 16,150 returned absentee ballots are currently deficient, said Derek Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections.

In Orange County, 103 of the 9,784 returned ballots are currently deficient. Since Sept. 4, 27 ballots have been cured, said Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections. 

Raper said that incomplete witness information accounts for nearly 90% of ballot deficiencies in Orange County. 

In Wake County, 386 of the 35,175 returned ballots are currently deficient, said Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections. 

Disparity in deficiency

Ballot deficiencies disparately affect Black voters, whose ballots were twice as likely to be rejected than those submitted by the state’s white voters in 2018. So far in 2020, the absentee ballot rejection rate of Black voters is nearly three times as high as that of white voters, according to a joint analysis of state board of elections absentee ballot data by ProPublica and WRAL News. 

Irving Joyner, voting rights advocate and professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law, told ProPublica and WRAL News that unfamiliarity and lack of voter education may be a root of the disparity. Many Black voters are casting their ballots for the first time, the analysis said. 

Black voters in Durham County account for 17% of returned absentee ballots, but 44% of ballots that are pending cure. Meanwhile, the county’s white voters make up 67% of returned ballots and 37% of deficient ballots, Bowens wrote. 

In Orange County, inequality lies in both the number of deficient ballots and the mail-in voter turnout. White voters represent nearly 72% of returned ballots, while Black voters make up less than 6%. Even though white voters account for substantially more returned ballots, the percentages of deficient ballots are starkly close — 61% from white voters and 24% from Black voters, Raper wrote. 

Wake county does track not race-related information among absentee voters, Sims said.

Donald Trump Jr. wants YOU for his “army” against voter fraud

In a recent video for the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr. becomes a modern-day Uncle Sam, urging Americans to sign up for a new kind of war.

“We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army For Trump’s election security operation,” he says.

The younger Trump’s video, posted on the Team Trump Facebook and Twitter pages on Sept. 21, follows the Trump campaign’s strategy to rile up Republican voters against the perceived threat of voter fraud. The president’s son claims that the “radical left” plans to cast “millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.”

The solution: assemble the troops.

To “enlist today,” he tells supporters to visit defendyourballot.com, which links to a section of the Army For Trump website that encourages voters to join Trump’s Election Day team. The site says volunteers will primarily focus on get-out-the-vote efforts “to ensure any voters who did not vote early vote on Election Day,” and does not mention poll watching or voter fraud.

Experts say voter fraud is rare, including fraud in voting by mail. Both Facebook and Twitter have added disclaimers below the video from the president’s son that state voting by mail is secure, but neither site has removed the video under their misinformation policies.

No U.S. presidential candidate has ever mounted these types of attacks on the electoral process nor called for supporters to “enlist” against the opposing party, said Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy and an expert in global democracy. But, she said, “dictators do it all the time.”

“The use of terms like ‘army’ is by no means coincidental,” Kelley said. “Once you start using language that hints at the use of force, you are stoking the embers.”

Every party has the right to contest an election on the grounds of potential voter fraud, she said, but those objections should happen after the election, and be accompanied by documentation alleging specific instances of fraud. 

Trump’s accusations of mass voter fraud, lodged before the election and without documentation, are “a blatant attempt to undermine the credibility of the process and erode confidence in it,” she said. 

David Dixon, chair of the Durham Democratic Party, called the president’s campaign strategy “the most blatant form of voter suppression or voter intimidation possible.”

“You’ll have regular people taking the law into their own hands at polls across the country, scaring voters,” he said. “I think that’s really going to affect turnout.”

The Durham Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Fifty-four percent of Durham voters are registered Democrats, compared with 11% of registered Republicans. As a blue county and a “monolith,” Dixon doubts Durham will see an instance of violent voter intimidation. But as the president and his campaign continue to use militaristic rhetoric, Dixon worries that Trump supporters in North Carolina’s more conservative counties will arrive at the polls armed. 

“Forty-five minutes north in Franklin or Vance County, there’s a possibility that folks may show up at the election site with guns or other weapons, thinking they’re doing exactly what the president told them to do,” he said.

On Sept. 19, a group of Trump supporters gathered outside of a polling site in Fairfax, Virginia, to wave “Make America Great Again” signs and chant “four more years.” The group did not directly harass voters but did form a line that voters had to walk around to enter the polling place. Several voters reported feeling intimidated. 

Dixon noted that the Trump campaign has chosen its words carefully, which provides deniability if there is any violence.

“It gives them wiggle room in case something does happen,” Dixon said.

Kelley and Dixon said Trump’s strategy to stir up fear and anger among Republican voters may signal his intentions to refuse to concede the election, an intention that the president himself has alluded to.

“His tactic is to create a situation that is so chaotic that he’ll be able to say, ‘We can’t accept the results of the election, because look at this mess,’” Kelley said.

The uncertainty of a pandemic election has given Trump plenty of opportunities to instill doubt in the electoral process, said Dixon, but voters will have to wait until November to see what sticks.

“He’s planting so many different seeds,” he said. “Once we get to November fourth, we’ll see what has been sown.”