Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Elections 2022”

Analysis: Public records requests flood NC elections offices

Across North Carolina, self-proclaimed defendants of election integrity are disrupting the day-to-day ways county officials preserve the integrity of elections.

The effort seems to be a new strategy by people who promote the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election: a nationwide barrage of public records requests to county boards of elections. The effort is delaying the officials’ ability to do their jobs — hiring poll workers, ordering ballots, and all the other things required to run smooth elections. 

Patrick Gannon, the public information director for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said county offices are being flooded with requests. 

“They’re not only coming in the form of emails. People are showing up at election offices with public records requests. They’re showing up with video cameras as they drop off the public records requests. They’re emailing them. They’re mailing them. They’re faxing them. They’re coming in by the hundreds,” Gannon said, noting that the requests are going to all 100 county boards of elections in the state.

Public records requests to boards of elections are useful tools for journalists, researchers, and any person who’s genuinely curious about the state’s voting processes. The requests are normally just a trickle and can be handled by the elections staffers. But lately, counties across North Carolina have been overwhelmed, as have counties around the country.

Certain types of requests seem to come in waves, election officials said. For instance, they reported receiving an influx of demands to see “cast vote records” (CVRs), files of scanned ballots usually used by academics and auditors. It is illegal to release them to anyone but election officials in North Carolina, although legal in some states.

Gannon said the high volume of requests have become such a burden that they are distracting workers from the important tasks of preparing for the November election.

“It is having a great effect on the ability of county boards of elections and staff to focus on the task at hand, and that is conducting a fair and accurate 2022 general election,” Gannon said. “Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong. I talk to county directors every day. I email with them every day. And it’s definitely having an effect.”

Besides asking for records that cannot be released under the law, many of the requests are just arduous.

Daniel Lassiter, the voter services manager at the Durham County Board of Elections, mentioned a request he got this year for the results tapes of the 2020 N.C. Supreme Court race between Cheri Beasley and Paul Newby. The tape, which is different from a cast vote record, looks like a long receipt, so it was tricky to figure out how to scan it onto a single page.

“That did take some time to do,” Lassiter said. He also described a recent request to produce every email his office exchanged with about 15 organizations, a task that required not only tracking down the emails, but redacting sensitive information. 

Gary Sims, the elections director for Wake County, also said the requests can be time-consuming for election workers. 

“Some of these are very, very, very, very cumbersome,” he said.“It could be looking at a 10-foot tape or, if it’s an early voting, be looking at a 20- to 30-foot tape. How do you even copy a 20-foot document that’s only three inches wide or so? Some of them, logistically, we’re trying to figure out — just one after another.”

Although the requests appear to be coming from individuals, several election officials reported language that looked cut-and-pasted from a template. But the officials said answering these requests is their job, and said they intend to fulfill them.

“I don’t really have time to hunt down and search who these people are or what they’re using this information for. That’s not really our goal,” said Lassiter. “Our goal is to respond in a reasonable time, which is what the law states.”

“We all do what we’re obligated to provide,” Sims said.

Still, officials seem a little jumpy.

When asked for clarification about what zero tapes are, Michael Dickerson, the Mecklenburg County elections director, paused for a moment.

“If I tell you that then, geez, now everybody’s gonna ask me for it,” Dickerson said. “Are you looking for it? I’ve never heard of Ninth Street News, no offense. I’m not trying to be funny.” (The correct title is actually The 9th Street Journal).

When asked what groups might be behind the requests, Dickerson said that wasn’t a part of his role.

“That would be your job,” he replied. “It’s a public records request to me. I do not care.”

Sims sees the groups behind these requests as a complicated web, spanning across the country and state.

“Picture one of those CSI crime shows where they have the wall and they take the string and tie this person with this person,” Sims said.

A key figure in the flood of requests seems to be Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has been a leader among election deniers and hosted a national conference in August in which he called on people to seek vote records. According to the Washington Post, he’s worked with Jeff O’Donnell, who goes by the alias The Lone Raccoon and runs a website filled with falsehoods about election security.

In North Carolina, the requests appear to sprout from a number of groups, some easier to spot than others. They include We the People, Transparent Elections NC, and the North Carolina Audit Force, whose Telegram channel carries messages from The Lone Raccoon. One Lone Raccoon message calls for a hidden army of election deniers. Others refer to news accounts reporting the truth about American elections as “hit pieces.”

Officials in bigger N.C. counties are better able to deal with the flood of requests, although challenges persist.

“Thankfully, I was able to get a person who is dedicated just to handling public records, but no matter what, it not only tries to tie up our office, but it ties up our communications office and also our county attorney’s office,” Sims said. 

Smaller counties lack these resources. They might have a lawyer on retainer, but it’s less likely they have a full department, Sims said.

Lassiter said that Durham is considering hiring a full-time employee to deal with the requests.  Still, he considers himself fortunate that the county hasn’t been as overloaded as other areas.

But for some officials, the chaos is beginning to hit a breaking point.

Sims said he has heard from elections directors in other parts of the state who no longer want to put up with the abuse and pressures of  the job. In his office, he tells his colleagues to send him any angry phone calls or disruptive individuals who show up at the door.

“You want to call and yell at me or cuss at me or threaten me? Okay, if that’s what makes you feel better,” Sims said.

It’s important that his staff members stay focused on doing their job — running North Carolina elections, he said.

“All these people that are trying to do this — do they want people to quit?” Sims said. “Well, how is democracy supposed to work if you don’t have good people making sure things are done properly? And that’s the part that, I guess, is a little sad or disheartening to me.”

Above: Images of the North Carolina Audit Force’s account on Telegram, a social media network.

 

Nearly 100 firearms turned in at gun buy-back event

On a recent Saturday, nearly 100 shotguns, handguns and assault rifles of all shapes and sizes were unloaded from police vehicles outside of the Durham County Detention Facility. 

Some were rusty muskets that looked straight out of the Revolutionary War. Others were sleek black pistols with added metal devices making the gun fully automatic and equipped to kill quickly. Most ominous of them all were revolvers with shiny metal barrels that conveniently don’t drop shell casings when they’re fired. 

Michael Taylor, a member of District Court Judge Pat Evans’ community outreach team for her reelection campaign, pointed at one of the revolvers. “That’s the murder weapon,” he said. 

The assortment of guns had one thing in common: they had all been bought back from Durham residents by the sheriff’s office April 9 in the county’s first-ever “Bull City Gun Buy Back.” 

The sheriff’s office offered Visa gift cards as compensation, $100 for a shotgun, $150 for a handgun and $200 for an assault rifle. At both the Mount Vernon Baptist Church and Durham County Stadium, residents could bring their guns in for a financial reward. 

The buy-back event officially began at 2 p.m., but by noon cars had lined up down the block at both locations. The event was scheduled to last until 6 p.m., but by 3 p.m. the officers had run out of their rewards gift cards at both locations. In one hour, they bought back nearly 100 firearms, giving away $10,000 worth of gift cards.  

At each location, deputies turned more than 40 people away after they had run out of gift cards. 

One man brought in 13 guns. “If someone had broken into his house and robbed him, that’s 13 guns hitting the streets,” Taylor said. 

“I was thinking if we got 10 that would be amazing. I’m stunned,” said Lieutenant John Pinner as he unloaded firearms from his trunk.

The buy-back event was organized by Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead in partnership with Evans. Both Birkhead and Evans are running for reelection and are on the ballot in the May 17 primary. 

The buy-back process was anonymous and voluntary, and there was no limit to how many guns an individual could turn in. The press release from the sheriff’s office stated, “No questions will be asked.”

Guidelines for the event were straightforward: Individuals were instructed to drive up in their vehicles, making sure their firearms were visible, so deputies could then retrieve the guns. Participants were compensated only for firearms that were operational. 

“Some people gave us their guns even after we ran out of gift cards,” Evans said.

Evans, a former lawyer with the Durham County District Attorney’s office, has lived in Durham County for 39 years and served as a District Court Judge for the last four. 

Fighting gun violence in Durham is one of the main promises of her reelection campaign. She proposed the buy-back event about a month ago as a way to get guns off the streets.

Evans noted that gun violence in the past four years has been especially bad. More than 1,900 shooting incidents have occurred in Durham since the start of 2020, wounding 650 people and resulting in nearly 90 deaths.  

The sheriff’s office will catalog the guns collected during the buy-back event, then keep them for six months and issue public notices to verify that there are no legal owners who wish to claim them. Then, Evans will sign an order to have the guns either destroyed or used for training purposes, she said. 

After both locations ran out of gift cards, the guns were brought to the Detention Center and loaded onto two large carts. Evans posed triumphantly behind them for photos. As Taylor recorded her on his iPhone, Evans said, “Thank you Durham, for joining us and taking ahold of our vision to make Durham a safer place.” 

Evans said another buy-back day may take place later this month. Many residents who brought guns after organizers had run out of gift cards want to come back next time, she said. 

Taking guns off the streets is only a first step, Evans added. She favors additional solutions that address the root of the gun violence problem. 

“It’s not enough to just take these guns,” Evans said. “We need to replace them with jobs, with mental health treatment, with substance abuse treatment, with tools for people to have a sustainable life.”

Above: Firearms of all sorts were collected at Durham’s recent gun buy-back event. Photo by Sophie Horst — The 9th Street Journal 

Nonpartisan school board candidates downplay partisan ties

At first glance, a group of candidates in the upcoming Durham Public Schools Board of Education election appears to be pretty typical. On its joint website, the “Better Board, Better Schools” slate mentions a passion for education and the goal of preparing students properly for college or the workforce. 

Yet when Durham County resident Bill Busa took a closer look, he noticed some unusual things. 

Busa, director of the Democratic campaign data analytics firm EQV Analytics, first saw that the group of five candidates had all filed to run on the same day. They share the same campaign treasurer, Donald Stanger, a precinct chair for the Durham County GOP. Stanger’s home address is listed as the campaign headquarters for each candidate. Each candidate is also a registered Republican.

None of this would be strange, except for the fact that the candidates’ party affiliation is not mentioned in any campaign materials or on their website. Durham school board elections are, in theory, nonpartisan. This means that candidates’ political affiliations are not listed on the ballot. 

In Durham, one of the most heavily Democratic counties in the state, Republicans rarely win public office. 

Busa believes “they do not want people to know they’re Republicans,” he said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “They can only win through the ignorance of the electorate.” 

Busa shared his concerns in a recent article posted online, hoping to draw attention to the group ahead of the May 17 election. The article has since been shared widely over email and on local neighborhood listservs. 

Unlike other races on the ballot in May, the Durham school board race is not a primary but a final election; the results will decide the composition of the school board. 

‘A Highly Organized Campaign’

Members of the “Better Board, Better Schools” group are not breaking any regulations by not listing their party affiliation in their campaign materials. Candidates in nonpartisan races are permitted to reveal and publicize their affiliation if they choose, but are not obligated to do so. 

Each of the five candidates listed their affiliation as nonpartisan in their campaign filings

Busa and others are troubled by the omission. Busa describes the “Better Board, Better Schools” group as “a highly organized campaign… launched and supported by the Durham County GOP, in hopes of slipping a bloc of Republicans under the voters’ radar.” 

The 9th Street Journal reached out to all five members of the slate for comment. One candidate, Curtis Hrischuk, responded by email.

“I think this is meant to distract from the fact that the current school board is failing the students and has failed them for years,” Hrischuk wrote in response to the accusations in Busa’s article.

“I certainly wasn’t recruited… Were there a bunch of people who connected us? Yes, but I think that was because we all talked about how bad the situation is and somehow found each other,” he wrote.

Along with Hrischuk, who is running for the District One seat, the “Better Board, Better Schools” slate includes Christopher Burns of District Two, Gayathri Rajaraman of District Three, Valarie Jarvis of District Four and Joetta MacMiller of Consolidated District B. 

Some members have leadership positions in the local Republican Party. 

MacMiller serves on the leadership board of the Durham GOP and is listed as a precinct chair on the Durham GOP website. Jarvis, who is married to the Durham Republican Party chairman, is also listed as a party precinct chair. 

The slate also recently held a meet and greet fundraiser at 800 N. Mangum St., the official headquarters for the Durham GOP. Flyers advertising the fundraiser listed the street address, but did not mention that the building is the GOP headquarters.

In partisan elections, Durham voters lean heavily Democratic. But the nonpartisan format of the school board election offers Durham Republicans a significant advantage, said longtime political consultant and Duke University public policy professor Mac McCorkle.

School board races also don’t draw much attention, McCorkle said. “These are low information races,” he said. “Somebody might just be able to sneak in.” 

The Candidates’ Views

Busa’s recent article criticizes the slate’s “radically conservative” views, describing Hrischuk as an “anti-semitic, climate-denying, anti-vaxx creationist.” 

In an email response, Hrischuk termed those charges “a load of nonsense.” He said he believes human-caused climate change exists, but that there are also other causes of global warming, such as sunspots and volcanic activity. 

However, in a pair of Facebook posts from 2011, Hrischuk accuses the “green pseudoscience” industry of manipulating the public for profit. “Man-made global warming is a hoax,” he wrote at the time. 

Asked if he believes in creationism, the notion that life was created by divine forces rather than through evolution, Hrischuk wrote that he supports teaching evolution in schools. “It isn’t clear to me what ‘creationist’ is supposed to mean,” he added. “But it is something that must be bad?”

Hrischuk’s signature appears on a statement entitled “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism,” whose authors say they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” 

The statement was published by a subgroup of the Discovery Institute, an organization that promotes the creationist concept of intelligent design.  

Hrischuk said he decided to run for the school board after learning of an incident in Loudoun County, Va., in which a non-binary individual allowed to use the women’s restroom was convicted of assaulting another student. He did not respond directly when asked if he supported or opposed transgender-affirming policies in schools.

MacMiller, meanwhile, appears on a list of members of the New Group of Patriots, a self-described “growing populist movement” that seeks “to destroy the socialist takeover of our lives and the American dream.” 

She is also listed as a participant in the NC Values Coalition’s Mama Bear Workshop. The workshop aims to educate parents on protecting children “from harmful curriculum and indoctrination in school.” The coalition’s website calls for combatting “progressive activists [who] have targeted schools as a primary conduit of social change.” 

Issues such as support for transgender students and the teaching of critical race theory have become hot button topics in other school board races across the country. MacMiller did not respond to questions regarding her stance on those issues. The “Better Board, Better Schools” platform website states that the group is against “curriculum deviations” in Durham schools. 

North Carolina’s Increasingly Partisan School Board Elections

McCorkle said the emergence of the “Better Board, Better Schools” slate fits with a larger national trend.

“This is an area that the right wing, as articulated by Steve Bannon and others, think of as a good national strategy: to focus on school boards,” McCorkle said. Bannon, a political strategist who served in the Trump administration, has spoken publicly about the conservative campaign to target school boards. 

In North Carolina, state law is helping to facilitate that campaign, McCorkle said. State regulations make school board elections nonpartisan by default, but the North Carolina General Assembly has the authority to adjust that rule on a county-by-county basis. 

According to McCorkle, the Republican-controlled state legislature has seized advantages for Republicans by making school board elections partisan in North Carolina’s red counties. Out of 115 school districts, the number of N.C. school boards elected on a partisan basis grew from 16 in 2015 to 41 in 2022, according to data provided by the North Carolina School Board Association. Two additional districts are set to become partisan in 2024. 

About two-thirds of the school boards that are now elected on a partisan basis fall within counties with a Republican majority, according to state voter registration data

Meanwhile, the legislature has left nonpartisan school board elections in place in blue counties like Durham. In those counties, the lack of a partisan label helps Republican candidates, McCorkle said. 

“I don’t think it’s that shocking that Republicans are maximizing their advantages,” McCorkle said. “They know that these races are sometimes kind of imponderable and low interest, and in Republican areas it pays to have that partisan label.”

Because Durham is so heavily Democratic, Busa says he believes it’s a prime target for the GOP.  

“In Durham, this is clearly not a struggle for more or better representation,” he said. “This is an attempt at a takeover of a liberal county’s school board by radical conservatives.”

Above: A flyer advertising a joint fundraiser for the “Better Board, Better Schools” slate was featured recently on the group’s Twitter feed. 

Race for Rep. David Price’s Congressional seat draws a crowded field

Now that Congressional districts for the upcoming election are finalized, following disputes over North Carolina’s election maps, candidates are jumping into the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. Eight Democratic candidates and two Republicans will be on the ballot in the May 17 primary as they vie for the seat that has long been held by U.S. Rep. David Price. 

Looming over the primary is Price’s decades-long legacy in Congress, where he used his academic expertise in congressional politics to expand public transit, highlight affordable housing needs and draw federal funds to the district for an EPA research campus. With the senior congressman’s departure, the race is competitive for the first time in years. Politicians, scholars, activists and a former American Idol contestant among those battling to represent a district that includes Alamance, Durham, Granville, Orange and Person counties and part of Caswell County.

Here’s a look at the contenders competing in the May primary to succeed Price.

Nida Allam (Democrat)

Twenty-eight-year-old Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the youngest in the race,  says her generation understands the urgency of solving today’s political crises. Allam was a field organizer and later the North Carolina political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She was also third vice-chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party for four years and was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2020.

Read more about Allam here.

Valerie Foushee (Democrat)

When Rep. Price announced his retirement, N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee, 65, received a mass of phone calls encouraging her to run. Foushee worked at the Chapel Hill Police Department for 21 years and was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board in 1997. She also served on the Orange County Board of Commissioners before being elected to the state House. She has been a state senator for eight years and currently chairs the N.C. Senate’s Democratic Caucus.

Read more about Foushee here.

Ashley Ward (Democrat)

Ashley Ward sees major holes in Congress: there are few members who specialize in climate policy, and very few with working-class roots. She said she would carry both of those missing elements to D.C. Her top issue is climate change. She works in the water policy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and has also worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read more about Ward here.

Clay Aiken (Democrat)

Clay Aiken, 43, gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before the show, he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.  

Read more about Aiken here.

Stephen J Valentine (Democrat)

Stephen J. Valentine, 53, is a social worker, lawyer and veteran and directs the Veteran’s Law program at N.C. Central University.  He served in the military for 21 years, and later served in the State Department under the Obama administration. Valentine’s agenda includes support for a living wage, universal preschool, free community college, support for veterans and cancelling student debt.  

Read more about Valentine here.

Other candidates in the race include:

  • Richard Watkins (Democrat): Watkins, 32, received a Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill in microbiology and immunology with a specialty in virology. He is the CEO and founder of The Science Policy Action Network, Inc. Watkins supports Medicare for All and a universal basic income. Some of his top issues include climate change and cybersecurity.
  • Crystal Cavalier (Democrat): Cavalier, 44, used her master’s degree in public administration to work with military families at Fort Bragg as a family readiness support assistant. She also founded the NC Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus, Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition of North Carolina and Seven Directions of Service, an Indigenous-led advocacy organization. Preserving rural environments and protecting women’s rights are among Cavalier’s top issues.
  • Matt Grooms (Democrat): Grooms, 39, is a nurse and graduate student from Greenville, N.C. He works as a nurse at a mental health hospital. His top issue is improving water quality in North Carolina. Grooms would also like to increase funding for social security and police departments, and to support development in minority and low-income neighborhoods.
  • Robert Thomas (Republican): Thomas, 53, wants to reinvigorate plans to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. A supporter of  Second Amendment rights and of former President Donald Trump, he is angered by Democrats’ treatment of former president Donald Trump.
  • Courtney Geels (Republican): Geels, 31, is a nurse who is critical of vaccine mandates, of conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, and of what she views as the federal government’s excessive spending. A conservative Christian, Geels opposes legalizing abortion and teaching critical race theory in schools.

Above: Photos courtesy of Nida Allam and Sen. Valerie Foushee 

A veteran, social worker and lawyer, Valentine now seeks to serve in Congress

Stephen J. Valentine,  53, a candidate in the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, has made a career of service as a social worker, lawyer and veteran.  He served in the military for 21 years, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He later served in the State Department under the Obama administration.

Valentine, originally from Pottstown, Pa., moved to Durham in 2005 to attend law school at North Carolina Central University. His agenda includes support for a living wage, universal preschool, free community college and cancelling student debt. Currently the director of the Veteran’s Law program at NCCU, he would also strive to provide more support for veterans. 

Serving in the military convinced Valentine that no civilian needs an assault rifle. He would work to ban those weapons. He would also work to address root causes of the opioid epidemic and of crime, which, he said, is a “microcosm of some of the other social ills that plague us, like unemployment.”

Valentine also wants the government to incentivize greater use of sustainable energy, and supports restructuring the tax code to be less burdensome to low-income individuals. 

The only candidate who is at once a veteran, a social worker and a lawyer, Valentine says his combination of skills would propel him towards successful service. 

“When my nation called, I answered that call,” he said.

Editor’s note: Read more about the contest in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here

Above: Photo courtesy of Stephen Valentine

In a bid for Congress, Aiken seeks a different kind of stage

“It’s funny to me that I’m still stuck in so many people’s minds sometimes as the 24-year-old from ‘Idol,’” chuckled Clay Aiken.“The more important thing to me that came out of ‘Idol’ was the ability it gave me to talk about issues that were important to me and bring attention to those.” 

Aiken, now 43, may have gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before “Idol,” he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.  

Now, Aiken wants to use his platform for politics.

“I was waiting and expecting someone who would jump in who would have some sort of powerful statewide voice or the proven ability to bring attention to issues, because I don’t think people in this district really realize how much David Price has done over the past 35 years,” Aiken said. 

The source of Aiken’s name recognition differs from that of U.S. Rep David Price, but he believes he can bring the same benefits to district residents. If elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th District in Congress, Aiken would ensure the district maintains access to infrastructure funds and housing funds, especially as housing prices skyrocket.

He would also reform education funding. Title I, which supports underfunded schools, has “incentivized school districts to create high poverty schools” in order to get more money, he said. 

This is not Aiken’s first run for Congress. He said his commitment to fairer election maps prompted him to run in 2014 against Rep. Rennee Ellmers (R) in North Carolina’s 2nd District. Aiken views the issue of voting rights as urgent, and would vote for both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the more sweeping H.R.1, which would reform voting rights and election administration. 

“We need to accept as much progress as we can make in this area right now, because we can’t really wait anymore,” Aiken said.

Aiken laments how Democrats waited to act on other pressing issues such as climate change, gun violence and police brutality.

“I think Democrats have a tendency, over the past four years, to be a bit superficial when it comes to making progress,” he said. “I’m all for symbolic victories, but symbolic victories don’t do much to save anyone’s lives and protect people.”

Editor’s note: Read more about the contest to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here

Photo courtesy of Clay Aiken

Ashley Ward’s campaign for Congress emphasizes climate policy and working class roots

Ashley Ward sees major holes in Congress: there are few members who specialize in climate policy, and very few with working-class roots. She said she would carry both of those missing elements to D.C. if elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. 

Ward’s family roots in Durham go back nearly 100 years. She grew up attending Durham Public Schools, followed by Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, N.C., and returned to school at 30, spending the next 10 years at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill getting her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. 

Ward’s personal experiences inspire her support for Medicare for All and for small businesses. Her child has a chronic health condition, and her medical bills are enormous despite insurance, she said. Her father and brother operate a small business, and she is bothered by the burdensome tax rates small businesses face, while large corporations pay little. 

Her top issue, and the focus of her career, is climate change. She works in the water policy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and has also worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she learned to build coalitions between people with drastic ideological differences to combat climate change.

Ward may not be a politician, but she does not shy away from policy details. In particular, she wants to see specific policy initiatives that will translate the principles of the Green New Deal into action. 

“A lot of the policies that we currently have in place around resilience and adaptation no longer meet this moment,” she said. “So we need to go back and revisit those policies that we currently rely on.”

Ward would rethink the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal flood insurance program and the Stafford Act, which outlines federal disaster responses.

“Of course I would love to see big, comprehensive legislation on climate change,” Ward said. “But, we can’t wait until we have huge, mega bills to pass. We have to take action right now in the areas in which we have consensus.”

Ward also wants to see more federal support for community colleges, including funds for more vocational training to help ease labor shortages. 

On crime, Ward proposes programs that embed social workers and mental health counselors with law enforcement.

While schools shootings are tragic, Ward notes that gun violence frequently manifests in domestic violence and suicide. She advocates comprehensive gun control legislation including more background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and closing loopholes to gun ownership.

Back in the 1970s, Ward’s mom made bread in a coffee can because she did not have a bread pan.

“I have school loans and medical debt,” she said. “I’ve wondered at times how we’re going to buy groceries or raise our kids and participate in field trips and all those things.”

She knows her story is common.

“I don’t think that my life story is exceptional,” she said. “My life story is an exception for Congress, and that, in fact, is a problem.”

Editor’s note: Read more about the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here

Above: Photo courtesy of Ashley Ward

In her run for Congress, Foushee stresses her years of experience

When U.S. Rep. David Price announced his retirement from Congress, N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee, 65, received a mass of phone calls encouraging her to run to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. 

“I didn’t decide to enter the race until I saw some of the others that had entered the field,” she said. “And so it made me consider it, at the urging of people that have served for more than 20 years. I do believe that I have, by way of experience, something that others are not able to offer.”

Foushee worked at the Chapel Hill Police Department for 21 years and was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board in 1997. She also served on the Orange County Board of Commissioners before being elected to the state House. She has been a state senator for eight years. Currently chair of the N.C. Senate’s Democratic Caucus, she is most proud of the legislation she championed to end child marriage.

When Foushee was growing up in segregated North Carolina, her parents worked multiple jobs at a time rather than rely on government assistance, she said.

“They decided to rely on educating their children,” she said. “Education has opened doors and it has assured me that I can do anything within reason in life, given access and opportunity.”

As a result, education is one of Foushee’s top issues. If elected, she would advocate for universal pre-K and eliminating student debt. 

Voting rights and protecting American democracy also sit at the top of Foushee’s agenda. She said she will do everything she can to end gerrymandering.

On crime, Foushee supports a national standard for policing that would enable officers to establish trusting relationships with their communities. Foushee believes that North Carolina’s  Senate Bill 300 is a start towards criminal justice reform, but that more needs to be done. She does not support defunding the police, and instead says departments should be funded adequately. She also favors hiring more social workers to work alongside police officers, as the Chapel Hill Police Department did when she worked there. 

“When I hear people talking about defunding the police, I wonder if that’s what the criminals are saying,” she said. 

Foushee would also prioritize efforts to advance towards Medicare for All and to improve the Affordable Care Act. Whether or not she wins the election, she said she intends to remain active locally.

“If it is not their desire to serve as an elected official, I belong to four service organizations,” she said. “I will always serve in some way.”

Editor’s note: Read more about the contest in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here

Above: Photo courtesy of Sen. Valerie Foushee

Congressional candidate Nida Allam says its time for her generation to be heard

Twenty-eight-year-old Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the youngest in the contest to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, believes her youth is not a disadvantage, but rather one of her greatest strengths. Her generation understands the urgency of solving today’s political crises, she said. 

“Every step of the road, I have been told I need to wait my turn,” Allam said. “Waiting your turn continues to lead to the issues that are impacting me and impacting people in the community, to be left unaddressed. And we can’t sit around and wait our turn. We need to step up and take action because our generation needs to be heard.”

A personal trauma drew Allam into politics. In 2015, three of her dearest friends were murdered in a hate crime in Chapel Hill. Civic-minded Muslim college students with professional aspirations, they were gunned down in their home. Yet police initially labelled the murder as a parking dispute, and while the shooter eventually was found guilty of murder, he was never charged with a hate crime. Allam, who is also Muslim, concluded that communities of color are ignored by institutions in power, and entered politics to give minorities “a seat at the table.”

Allam was a field organizer and later the North Carolina political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She was also third vice-chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party for four years and was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2020.

If elected, Allam would invest in job creation and education to address the root causes of crime, and continue Price’s legacy of expanding public transportation. Gun control legislation will languish in Congress, she said, until Congress acts to reduce the influence of big money on politics. 

“First and foremost, we really need to address the corruption that exists,” she said.

Allam also would fight for a Green New Deal.

“We have less than 10 years to deal with irreversible damage of climate change, and it’s going to be our generation and our future generations that have to deal with that,” Allam said. 

“And so we need that sense of urgency going to D.C. We need people with lived experiences of what the effects of gun violence and white supremacy in this country are to be leading us in D.C.”

Editor’s note: Read more about the race for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional here

Above: Photo courtesy of Nida Allam