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Posts tagged as “Elections”

What are poll watchers, and why does Trump want more of them?

As he continued to sow distrust in the electoral process at a Sept. 8 rally in Winston-Salem, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to take on alleged voter fraud themselves. 

“Watch it,” he said. “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.”

Trump previously stated he had plans to send law enforcement officials to monitor the polls, which is prohibited by federal and state law. Poll watchers, on the other hand, are legal, so long as they don’t interfere with the voting process. But officials say their job isn’t quite as action-packed as the president would make it seem.

The role of poll watchers

Poll watchers have long been deployed by political parties to observe election proceedings and ensure each party gets a fair shot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are prohibited from directly communicating with voters, but they can watch for potential offenses and track turnout to help estimate how a party’s candidate is doing. 

If they witness a potential instance of voter fraud, they can bring it to the attention of precinct officials or contact the county board of elections, “as long as it’s done in a nonobstructive manner,” according to Derek Bowens, Durham County’s director of elections. But such disputes are rare, he said.

“Election Day challenges are pretty nonexistent here,” Bowens said. “When we do get them, a lot of times it’s a misunderstanding of process on the observer’s part.”

Not just anyone can be a poll watcher. In North Carolina, the county chair of each political party can nominate two poll watchers per polling place. The nominees have to be approved by the county board of elections. Poll watchers must be registered voters of the county, cannot be candidates on the ballot, and must possess “good moral character,” according to state statute.

“It’s probably more subjective than it could be,” Bowens said. “But the threshold is pretty high for the board to reject someone. I’ve never seen that happen.”

Each county party may also nominate up to 10 at-large observers that can monitor any precinct, and state parties can nominate up to 100, but a maximum of three poll watchers from each party may observe a precinct at a time.

While the president can’t mobilize law enforcement to oversee the polls, North Carolina statute does not prohibit law enforcement officials from independently serving as poll watchers. However, they must follow the same rules as all other poll watchers and cannot communicate with or intimidate voters.

The prevalence of voter fraud

What about the “thieving, stealing, and robbing” Trump mentioned? “I have no clue what he’s talking about,” Bowens said.

Voter fraud is rare, but Republicans have latched onto a few recent cases. On Sept. 8, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger revealed investigations into 1,000 cases of double voting in the state’s June primary election and August runoff. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also announced on Sept. 3 that 19 foreign nationals would face charges for illegally voting in the 2016 federal election in North Carolina.

However, neither case of voter fraud altered the outcome of any race, state officials from Georgia and North Carolina confirmed. Trump has similarly claimed fraudulent ballots caused him to lose the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, despite losing by almost 3 million votes. Now, he’s urging supporters to try out the same fraudulent techniques he denounces. 

At a Sept. 2 briefing with reporters in Wilmington, Trump encouraged Republicans planning to vote by mail to visit their local polling place and attempt to vote again in person. 

“Let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” he said. “If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote.” 

Intentionally voting more than once is a felony in North Carolina. Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued a statement the next day reminding voters of the state’s protections against double voting. The board also launched an online service called BallotTrax last Friday to allow voters to track the status of their absentee ballots. 

“If someone has voted, and we’ve logged their vote at the board of elections, when they present to vote in person, they won’t be able to cast their ballot,” Bowens said.

Damon Circosta, chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said voter fraud is “so exceedingly rare that it’s almost laughable.”

“Any time you get a conspiracy big enough that it could impact the outcome of an election, too many people know that you’re trying to do something fraudulent,” he said. He referenced one such case in the 2018 election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where a Republican operative was accused of tampering with absentee ballots. That operative was indicted last year.

Some worry that Trump’s fear-mongering tactics will embolden his supporters to intimidate voters. But Circosta said such attempts at voter suppression won’t be tolerated — they’ll be met with “the full weight of the law,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s anything more sad than intimidating your fellow citizens out of the franchise,” he said. “We should pause and think about what we’re trying to do with democracy, and it’s certainly not silence other voices.”

Redrawn Greensboro congressional seat predicted to flip to Democrats

In a post on his campaign Facebook page, Lee Haywood smiles, posing neither masked nor socially distanced from Madison Cawthorn, a fellow Republican congressional candidate.

On Twitter, the Kathy Manning campaign shares a photo of Manning in a pink and green mask, standing distanced from North Carolina State Council of Machinists President Theodore McNeal.

This familiar dynamic, in which face masks have been politicized, is playing out in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, where Haywood and Manning face each other and a transformed electorate in the midst of a global pandemic.

The redrawn district seems to be Kathy Manning’s to lose. Republican incumbent Mark Walker declined to run for reelection after court-mandated redistricting converted the district from an amalgamation of eight counties to just Guilford County and the southeastern portion of Forsyth County. Its borders encompass Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, which make up North Carolina’s more urban, more Democratic-leaning Triad region. 

In 2018, Manning lost by 6 points in her bid to unseat Ted Budd in the 13th Congressional District. This year, she emerged from a crowded primary in the 6th with nearly half of the vote — a race perhaps more competitive than the general election will be.

Candidates focus on healthcare, economy

Manning, a former immigration lawyer, has never held public office but has emphasized her community and nonprofit work in her campaign, citing public service such as Greensboro’s Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts as work she will continue if she wins.

Haywood, a small business owner, also has never held public office, though he has emphasized his conservative ties instead. A self-described “constitutional conservative,” he served for the past two years as chairman of the congressional district’s Republican Party before making a leap into the election.

“I only became active in politics 10 years ago with the emergence of Barrack [sic] Obama and his vision for a radically changed America,” Haywood writes on his campaign website.

In an election cycle dominated by racial, healthcare, and economic fault lines laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, this race has been no exception, even as both candidates largely follow party platforms.

“I’m a pragmatic person,” Manning said during a July 28 event with the Forsyth County Democratic Party. She does not support Medicare for All, the universal single-payer healthcare system advocated by progressives. Instead, she has backed a public option, in which the federal government would provide its own health insurance plan, as well as the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina. “The most pragmatic way to get good, affordable healthcare to everybody is by building on the ACA, rather than dismantling it.”

Haywood is aligned with his party on healthcare. He has proposed overhauling the ACA for a private, free market-driven system.

Both candidates tout their small business experience as good preparation for charting the district through the pandemic and toward economic recovery. While both favor extending programs such as low-interest loans to mitigate the effects of the pandemic recession, their approaches sharply diverge for the post-pandemic future. 

Haywood has stressed the need to eliminate the ballooning national debt, while Manning has leaned on past work in the Triad as evidence of her ability to guide long-term economic development.

Haywood confronts ungiving new district

The new district lines are unkind to Haywood and Republicans at large. Barring a major gaffe by Manning or a statewide red wave, he is considered a long shot in the now blue district. In Guilford County, Hillary Clinton won by almost 20 points in 2016; she won Forsyth by more than 10 points. In both counties, about three-times as many Democrats as Republicans turned out in this year’s primary.

The redrawn 6th Congressional District includes all of Guilford County and part of Forsyth County. Map from NC General Assembly.

“It’s nice to have a district that reflects the electorate finally,” State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said. “Guilford’s pretty blue, and we haven’t had a Democratic representative in a long time. I think it’s going to be good to have somebody that reflects more of our values.”

The newly drawn political landscape has led pundits to forecast a Manning win. The Cook Political Report rates the district as “likely Democratic,” and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates it as “safe Democratic.”

Beyond the new map, Haywood faces a name recognition problem — compounded by his lack of incumbency, Manning’s 2018 race, and a pandemic that has stifled traditional avenues of voter outreach — which his campaign is trying to solve by positioning Haywood alongside Donald Trump.

On Facebook, the Haywood campaign’s chief social media platform, the president has made several appearances, including in an ad from early June, where his face accompanies “Keep NC-06 Red” and an invitation to donate to and get involved with the Haywood campaign. But the president has neither endorsed nor boosted Haywood.

“To embrace the president, given the president’s relatively low approval rating, is certainly a strategy if you want to maximize turnout amongst people who like the president. But there’s just not enough of those folks [in the district],” David Holian, a political scientist at UNC Greensboro, said, adding that the association might also turn out voters against the president and, in turn, Haywood.

Manning outpaces Haywood in fundraising

Without his own voter base, Haywood has struggled to amass funds. 

From the start of the campaign up to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing on June 30, the Haywood campaign has raised just over $15,000, with about $7,000 cash on hand. Almost all contributions to the campaign have been made by individuals, save a $1,000 one by the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club and $200 from a committee for B.J. Barnes, Summerfield mayor.

The Manning campaign has raised almost 100 times more — $1.4 million, with about $300,000 cash on hand. More than 85% of the total fundraising amount is from individual contributions. 

“My opponent is a very rich limousine liberal, and I have a very profound monetary disadvantage,” Haywood said during a June 11 event with the Forsyth County Republican Party, sandwiched between asks for donations.

Mac McCorkle, a public policy professor at Duke, said that the disparity reflected the likely outcome. 

“This is seen as a Democratic victory. The Republican forces are probably not encouraging people to waste money on this race,” he said. 

The lack of institutional and party backing, coupled with a redrawing that has compacted the district around a strong Democratic base, will be difficult for Haywood to overcome. 

“It’s like trying to reverse political gravity,” McCorkle said. “Subject to some major change, all the vectors are pointing in one direction — that it’s a blowout.”

At top, candidates Kathy Manning and Lee Haywood. (Photos from their campaigns)

Your questions about mail-in voting, answered

After four years of relentless partisan drama, when wearing a mask or buying a can of black beans has become a political statement, the 2020 election was destined to be contentious. A worldwide pandemic of respiratory illness just made it weird. 

Between now and Election Day on Nov. 3, a record number of people will vote by mail to avoid interacting with others and potentially contracting the novel coronavirus. Typically 4% of the state electorate vote by mail, said Damon Circosta, board chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections. This year, the number will be between 30 and 40%. 

If you, too, are considering mail-in voting, The 9th Street Journal is here to cut through the chatter and answer your questions about the process. 

What is all the fuss about mail-in voting? 

Mail-in voting has been part of American democracy since Civil War soldiers re-elected Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 election. The elderly and voters with disabilities or chronic illness have found postal voting a safe and convenient way to pick their political representatives, said Mac McCorkle, director of POLIS, the center for politics in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. 

Voting by mail gained fame in recent months when it was attacked by President Trump, who claimed, without evidence, that it would invite fraud and lead to “the greatest rigged election in history.” Meanwhile, the president and his wife both requested absentee ballots on Aug. 12. 

Cost-cutting measures by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Greensboro resident and longtime donor to the president, heightened the controversy after he took over the U.S. Postal Service on June 15. 

The brouhaha isn’t over. DeJoy temporarily suspended the measures, but the announcement and comments from the president left many people unsure how mail-in voting will play out in this year’s election. 

What is absentee voting? Is it different from mail-in voting?

President Trump repeatedly made false distinctions between absentee voting and mail-in voting, confusing many voters. Mail-in voting is actually just one type of absentee voting. 

You can vote in one of three ways: Show up at a local precinct on election day, or vote absentee, which includes casting your ballot at an early-voting precinct or mailing in an absentee ballot.

“Absentee is anything with the exception for voting in person on election day,” Circosta said. 

Any registered voter in North Carolina may request an absentee ballot, no reason or special circumstance required

Are Durham election officials ready for the volume of mail-in ballots they are likely to  receive? 

They say they are.

Durham County has already had a 350% increase in absentee ballot requests compared with 2016, according to Derek Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections. 

Through last Friday, when the first batch of absentee ballots requests were mailed out, 40 people in the elections office were working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. putting together absentee ballot packages, which include return envelopes, “I Voted” stickers and instructions for how to complete the ballot, Bowens said. 

Starting this week, only 10 people will be needed to put together and send out ballot packages every day, Bowens said. 

In addition to the staffers processing requests and stuff envelopes, more than a dozen will authenticate ballots and call voters if their ballot is deficient and cannot be accepted. 

Bowens said that he is not concerned about a shortage of workers because the county can enlist a temporary employment agency. 

The mail-in voting process will cost the county at least $100,000, Bowens said, but that can be covered through an existing county election budget, potential CARES Act dollars and budget amendments requested from the Board of County Commissioners. 

Is the Postal Service ready for the volume of mail-in ballots that Durham will receive? 

Well, let’s just say that if you are voting by mail, do it early. 

Postal Service spokesperson Philip Bogenberger did not answer The 9th Street Journal’s questions regarding mail-in voting in Durham, but postal officials have warned that they could have difficulty because some states have late deadlines for requesting ballots.

Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, sent a letter in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, warning that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s standards.” 

Marshall told officials with tight schedules to require that residents request ballots at least 15 days before an election, and that ballots requested too close to the deadline may not “be returned by mail in time to be counted,” according to the New York Times. A separate analysis by the Times confirmed this could be a problem in 19 states. (The Times said the deadlines in North Carolina might provide sufficient time.) 

Another possible problem: Changes to the Postal Service that DeJoy had already implemented prior to reversing the announcement. 

At least seven mail sorting machines were removed from a post office facility near the Charlotte Airport, which DeJoy said that he will not replace while testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24. 

Bogenberger did not answer The 9th Street’s Journal’s question about whether any mail sorting machines in Durham county were removed. 

Will Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service hurt his own party? 

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is worried about that, according to Axios. McCarthy is privately encouraging voting by mail and warned Trump recently that their party could be “screwed” by his bluster against mail-in voting.

“We could lose based on that,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Alayna Treene, an Axios White House reporter.

McCarthy said the party can’t afford for Republicans to sit home, afraid of getting COVID-19, while Democrats flood the field with mail-in ballots.

“I tried to show him…you know who is most afraid of COVID? Seniors. And if they’re not going to go vote, period, we’re screwed,” McCarthy said.

Indeed, as Trump rails against the Postal Service, his campaign and other Republican candidates are quietly encouraging supporters to vote by mail. 

WRAL reported that the North Carolina Republican Party sent out ballot request forms to selected voters in July, along with an edited tweet by President Trump. 

The original tweet said, “…Absentee ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your vote privilege. Not so with Mail-Ins. Rigged Election!!! 20% Fraudulent Ballots?” 

The party highlighted the first half of the president’s tweet that praised absentee ballots in yellow, and blurred the last three sentences that disparaged mail-in ballots. 

While the Republican Party mops up after Trump, Democrats have been pushing their base loud and clear to vote by mail. And the results are paying off. 

State Board of Elections data shows that 53% of absentee ballot requests so far this year came from registered Democrats, compared with 15% from Republicans, according to WRAL

It’s hard to predict the impact of the mixed messages about mail-in voting. 

McCorkle said that misinformation and Trump’s comments surrounding mail-in voting may fire up some to vote, but the less politically engaged may shy away. 

“In between COVID-19 and what President Trump is saying, some people might not vote,” he said.  

Trump’s comments could indeed hurt his own party. FiveThirtyEight reported there is no historical evidence that mail-in voting gives one party an advantage, although this year could be different. 

What are the pros and cons of voting by mail? 

Pros: You don’t have to leave your home and worry about any interaction with someone who might have the coronavirus. No standing in lines, either. 

Cons: Voters make mistakes. Thirty percent of mail-in ballots in Durham County have historically not been counted because they don’t meet necessary guidelines, said Gunther Peck, Duke history professor and voting rights activist. 

“There have been problems with mail-in ballots because if people don’t cross every T then the ballots get thrown out,” Peck said. 

Peck said that recent changes to the state mail-in voting process, promoted by the advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, may reduce the rate of rejected ballots. 

Voters will be contacted if their mail-in ballots do not meet the criteria and then asked to resubmit their votes. The county office will call, email or send a letter to the voter, depending on the number of days until Election Day on Nov. 3. 

Another change is that local boards of elections have begun processing absentee ballots five weeks ahead of Election Day, Peck said, allowing ample time for voters to fix ballot mistakes. 

The best advice: Send in your ballot as soon as possible.

I received an official-looking mailing from the Center for Voter Information with an application for an absentee ballot. What is that about? 

The Center for Voter Information is a Washington D.C.-based organization that aims to increase voter turnout. It is a partner organization to the Voter Participation Center, which is particularly dedicated to increasing voter registration among young people, people of color and unmarried women. 

Page Gardner, founder of Center of Voter Information, told ABC-11 that the organization has mailed 1.8 million absentee voter request forms this year in North Carolina alone. 

Garder said many people want to vote by mail but don’t know how, and that’s where her organization steps in. 

“We’re doing a very robust voter registration in North Carolina,” Garder said. “We’re exceeding our original goals and we’re seeing an enormous response to our vote by mail application.” 

However, Circosta said that the third-party mailings are confusing some voters, who don’t know why they received the forms and where they came from. 

The state board of elections, concerned that the mailings can confuse voters, has told groups it will review them to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and don’t do more harm than good.  

“These efforts typically are legal, but they can be confusing or frustrating for voters and erode confidence in elections, especially when they are unsolicited,” states an Aug. 6 press release by the State Board of Elections. 

At top, photo of Durham elections office by Henry Haggert | The 9th Street Journal

What the state elections chair worries about in the middle of the night

Overseeing a statewide election in a pandemic gives Damon Circosta plenty of things to fret about. But when the chair of the North Carolina Board of Elections lies awake at night, his biggest worry is the poll workers.

The state needs to accommodate over 7 million registered voters so they can cast their ballots for president, U.S. Congress, governor, and other statewide offices on Nov. 3. That takes about 25,000 workers. But finding them may be difficult this year, since poll workers are typically senior citizens who now face the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The state needs more poll workers than usual, too. In addition to their normal tasks of greeting voters and handing out ballots, they will be expected to enforce social distancing, wipe down ballot stands, and distribute masks and hand sanitizer.

Damon Circosta | State Board of Elections

Circosta, who was appointed to the board a year ago, describes himself as a “true zealot” of accessible elections. Ensuring that counties can staff their polls in November has become his top priority — and his greatest concern.

“Recruiting those people has always been a challenge,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do now.”

Fortunately, state elections officials “didn’t put all our eggs in one basket,” he said. Voters can choose to vote absentee by mail, head to the polls for early voting from Oct. 15-31, or cast their ballot on Election Day at one of 2,700 precincts. 

The state board of elections has helped recruit workers for all three methods of voting with its “Democracy Heroes” campaign — they’ve collected about 17,000 interest forms that way, said Circosta. But most of the burden of recruiting poll workers lies with the counties.

Durham is on track for a smooth election, said Director of Elections Derek Bowen. The county has already secured about 600 of the 800 volunteers it needs by Election Day, with over 100 applications pending. Plus, Durham has a program that will send government workers to staff the polls if necessary.

Circosta is optimistic that the rest of North Carolina will round up enough poll workers, too — “but we cannot let off the gas,” he said. He recommends that businesses let employees take a day off and college students be released from classes to work at the polls.

He isn’t concerned about health risks for workers. “Going to your polling place will be safer than going to your local Walgreens,” he said. But he knows some residents might be scared to vote in person.

“I’m worried that talking about the challenges COVID-19 creates will inadvertently tell people that (voting in person) isn’t what they should be doing,” he said. “Absolutely, we can make it safe. I just want people to show up.”

Others predict a high turnout despite the pandemic. Page Gardner, founder of the Voter Participation Center, said the advocacy group has seen “an enormous response” from voters, especially to its vote-by-mail application.

“There is a hunger to participate,” she said. “People want to help, and they want to vote.”

President Trump has stirred up questions about the election with false allegations about the prevalence of voter fraud, most recently targeting the validity of mail-in voting. Gardner said the president is “doing everything he can to keep people from voting.” He has even claimed there are plans to send law enforcement to monitor the polls, which critics say could be a form of voter intimidation.

But Circosta said state and federal law prohibit the mobilization of law enforcement for poll monitoring. “It’s not going to happen,” he said.

Yet the suggestion may put voters on edge. Durham routinely sends unarmed security officials to monitor polling sites to “help diffuse any situations that may arise,” said Bowen. The protocol was created to protect voters, but he recognizes that the presence of uniformed guards could make some voters feel threatened.

“We don’t want to have any form of voter intimidation,” he said. “So that’s a hard balance.”

Chatham County had an incident of voter intimidation in February, when pro-Confederate demonstrators reportedly hurled slurs and flew Trump and Confederate flags in front of an early voting site. Gardner said it’s up to election officials to prevent similar incidents this year.

“There are people trying to confuse, intimidate, and make the voting process seem chaotic,” she said. Election officials “need to guarantee that this will not be allowed.”

Circosta said he has “no tolerance” for citizens who harass fellow voters, but he anticipates counties will need additional guidance in responding to voter intimidation.

“If people do wish to engage in that behavior, I expect the full weight of the law will be used to thwart it,” he said. 

Circosta’s job comes with plenty of anxiety. But he said being the face of the North Carolina election feels “absolutely wonderful.”

He doesn’t know when or how the election will end, but he urges voters to be patient.

“By every account, this is going to be a close election,” he said. “But we’ll get it right.”

Gunn concedes, says he ‘stood tall’ against ‘political machine’

Joshua Gunn conceded Wednesday, clearing the way for three incumbents to return to the City Council. Although there had been questions about a possible recount because he trailed Javiera Caballero by just 395 votes, Gunn wrote a Facebook post congratulating her and fellow incumbents Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.  

Let’s be clear, while we may not have gained a seat on City Council, this is a victory,” he wrote. “It was 3 against 1. Three incumbents in a bloc, versus one candidate. What we overcame is incredible. Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, we stood tall against the largest political machine in Durham, and without the support of many of Durham’s most influential political figures, and we came within 395 votes of winning a seat on Durham City Council!”

Gunn lost to Caballero by just 395 votes.

 

The reelection of Johnson, Reece, and Caballero won’t be certified until the Durham County Board of Elections meets next week. 

Daniel Meier: Yes to more police and equitable criminal justice

In a Nike Dri-Fit polo, khaki shorts, and a Notre Dame baseball cap, Daniel Meier reclines casually in a leather chair at his downtown law office.

But once he starts talking about conditions in Durham that concern him, the city council candidate is anything but relaxed.

“Local elections actually matter. Everyone focuses on the presidential elections, but whoever the president is has nothing to do with our law enforcement policy, whoever the president is has nothing to do with us getting a new bike path,” Meier said. 

Despite polling last among the six candidates who won October’s primary, Meier is working hard to reach voters. The criminal defense attorney’s platform focuses mostly on reducing crime and equal opportunity for Durham residents. 

Like other challengers to three incumbents seeking re-election, Meier said he is frustrated with the current city council. “The current city council says, ‘Let’s just ignore the short-term solutions and focus on long term.’ And I say no we can do both,” he said. 

Reducing crime is Meier’s biggest priority. He understands this problem better than most, he said, due to both his profession and his wife’s work. After a long career in the Durham Police Department, Leslie Meier is now a county deputy sheriff.

Despite decreasing in recent years, violent crime in Durham increased in 2019, with 35 homicides in the last nine months. The second-quarter crime report released by police chief C.J. Davis revealed a 16% increase in violent crime within the first six months of this year compared to 2018.

Daniel Meier explains his thinking at Inter-Neighborhood Council’s candidates forum at city hall last week. Photo by Cameron Beach – The 9th Street Journal

“There are three components to crime: ability, opportunity, and desire. Everyone has the ability to commit a crime so you can never do anything with that. You need to take away the opportunity to do crime,” said Meier, who studied law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Meier supports hiring more police officers in Durham. The city council rejected Davis’s budget increase request to hire 18 new police officers with a 4 to 3 vote in June. Instead they approved a budget that provided an increased minimum wage for city employees. 

That vote inspired Meier to run. “What really pushed me was the tone-deaf response to the rise in crime and request for more law enforcement officers,” he said. 

Friends of Durham cited Meier’s understanding of crime in Durham, where he has lived for 17 years, when endorsing him. The business-oriented political action coalition noted Meier’s  commitment to furthering ties between police and residents of Durham as essential. 

“No one else on the Council or running for a Council seat can speak to the public safety and community engagement aspects of the law enforcement community like Daniel can,” the endorsement reads. 

Also endorsed by the Durham Fraternal Order of Police, Meier acknowledged racial discrimination and bias in local law enforcement and the judicial system during his 2018 run for district attorney. He recognizes the necessity to rebuild trust between community members skeptical about the police’s role in Durham.

“Right now in society there is an awful lot of us versus them, but we really are all in this together. The community members want law enforcement, law enforcement wants safe communities,” he said. 

Long-term solutions to many problems are embedded in the economic and social development of Durham, he said. These efforts also go hand-in-hand with crime reduction. “If you have a stable job, if you have stable housing, you are less likely to engage in criminal activity,” he said.

In addition to three at-large city council seats, a five-year $95 million dollar affordable housing bond is on the ballot Nov. 5. The bond proposes construction of 1,600 new affordable housing units as well as the preservation of 800 affordable rental units.

Proposed construction projects are intended to benefit the homeless and homeowners, as well. A main component of Mayor Steve Schewel’s affordable housing platform, the bond is strongly supported by the three incumbents

Meier opposes the bond, which Schewel introduced in February, not on principle but in its current form, he said. He recognizes that fast-growing and gentrifying Durham has an affordable housing shortage. But he said he found planning for the bond too rushed.

“I don’t like high-pressure sales, it sounds kind of like I am trying to buy a used car and they are saying do it now, do it now, do it now,” he said. “It might be something that is really needed, but I don’t know why we can’t wait six months on it, I don’t know why we can’t wait a year on it and make sure it is right,” he said.   

In 2018 Santana Deberry beat Meier and incumbent Roger Echols to become district attorney.
After his 2018 loss, Meier said a voter turnout of 15% made him realize the importance of voter engagement. “One of the things I still regret is an inability to communicate with the 85 to 90% of people who don’t vote,” he said. 

Meier hopes support for his ideas motivates more people to vote this time.

Daniel Meier at the Kid Voters Candidate Forum at Riverside High School Thursday evening. Photo by Cameron Beach – The 9th Street Journal

Like challengers Joshua Gunn and Jackie Wagstaff, Meier is not afraid to take aim at incumbent council members running for three at-large council seats.

“In my mind, it has become increasingly clear on certain things like public safety and some of the economic developments, the current city council is out of touch. They are focused on national issues and a national agenda rather than Durham,” he said. 

That said, he is willing to find a common ground with council members if elected through open and frank discussions, he said. By nature his job is argumentative; by training he has learned to negotiate. Both skills holding equal value when enacting policies the city needs, he said. 

“I work with people I disagree with every day. That is my job,” he said. “You can be adversarial  without being disagreeable.” 

At top: Daniel Meier at Riverside High School. Photo by Cameron Beach – The 9th Street Journal

Sylvester Williams: A prophet’s pick for mayor

Sylvester Williams lowers his voice and leans across the booth in the dimly lit basement of Triangle Café. “I’ve had a prophet tell me…” – he pauses –  “‘Sylvester, you’re going to be the mayor of Durham.’”

It’s a hopeful prophecy for Williams, who has already run for mayor three times and lost decisively every time. In 2017, he received less than 2% of the vote. And this year, he faces Mayor Steve Schewel, who is expected to win by a large margin.

Why run again? Williams says that as a black man who has spent his entire life in Durham, he understands the plight of the city’s disenfranchised. The black community remains “the face of poverty” in Durham and continues to suffer despite the city’s newfound prosperity.

“Nothing has really changed…the poverty rate hasn’t really changed, the homelessness, affordable housing. Those issues are still at the forefront of life here in the city of Durham.”

Progressive voters would certainly rally behind this call for greater socioeconomic and racial equality. But many of his beliefs would give them pause. 

Williams, a former financial analyst and current pastor at The Assembly at Durham Christian Center, represents an anomaly in the liberal city of Durham. As a born-again Christian, he remains faithful to a strict interpretation of scripture that rejects many progressive social mores.

Williams, 64, has come under fire for his staunch opposition to gay marriage, abortion and the teaching of evolution. He has described homosexuality as a path of deviance, argued it is incompatible with Christianity, and linked same-sex marriage to Durham’s crime and gang violence. 

Williams insists that he’s not homophobic. He doesn’t hate people in same-sex relationships. They just need “saving.”

“I know that there are some that try to present this false narrative about me… ‘He’s full of hate, he’s homophobic.’ No. There’s nothing hateful that I’ve said, no hateful quotes that I’ve made about anyone, ’cause I realize I’m a son of sin saved by grace too. Had my mistakes, had my issues. I wasn’t always with the Lord Jesus.”

Williams lived a life of “rebellion” prior to turning to Christ. He grew up as the son of a preacher in East Durham but did not devote his life to the “Lord Jesus” until his early 20s.

Since then, Williams has preached living and learning Christ’s word – at least his interpretation of that word. He believes the education system has failed its students by neglecting to include biblical teachings. “Pretty much as I went through the school system, I didn’t hear anything about Christ or God…they brainwashed a whole generation of people believing that there’s no truth to the Christian faith.”

He describes the Bible as a matter of “fact” rather than “faith,” and doesn’t want students to learn about evolution. “There was no science behind it,” he says. “Evolution teaches you one race evolved more than the other race.”

He’s just as fervent when it comes to discussing the issue of abortion. Williams says he would support the Trump administration if the president were to come “at us saying he supports ending abortions.”

While Schewel has a Wikipedia page and a robust website outlining his stances on the issues, Williams primarily runs his campaign through his personal Facebook page. 

Still, Williams says that he’s in touch with Durham. “I believe that my message has resonated…a lot of the candidates are just there for PR, they’re not really invested in the community.”

Photo by Cameron Beach – The 9th Street Journal