Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
News & Record of Greensboro on lawmakers' rhetoric about election fraud:
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To recklessly throw around claims of voting fraud is to play a dangerous game that could do lasting harm to our democracy.
Yet politicians from the White House to the local level are indulging in that game more and more. Social media and casual conversation cheer them on.
NPR pointed out a recent high-profile example last week: Asked about the absentee ballot tampering in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District that has prompted a new election, President Donald Trump gave an answer designed to confuse. Saying he condemns "any voter fraud," the president went on to talk not about the improprieties surrounding the thrown-out election of Republican Mark Harris but rather the unsubstantiated claims of "a million fraudulent votes" in California.
Despite such frequently repeated claims of massive problems, the evidence shows that outright voter fraud is rare in this country (so rare that a commission appointed by Trump to investigate fraud in the 2016 election was disbanded). As for what happened in the 9th District, it's remarkable because it is one of the clearest cases of election fraud in recent history. A Bladen County man who worked as a political consultant in Harris' campaign has been charged in connection with the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election. The charges involve illegally obtaining and altering absentee ballots, and the improprieties benefited a Republican candidate.
What happened in Bladen County is noteworthy also because it doesn't look much like the fears that are usually raised by inflammatory rhetoric about voter fraud: that hordes of illegal immigrants or people using names of dead voters are going to the polls.
Rather than worrying about actual absentee ballot tampering in Bladen County, some Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have been using false and vague charges of voter fraud to try to win support for suppressing minority voters. After the Republican legislators' strict voter ID law was thrown out by the courts, which found that it targeted African-Americans and other minorities, they tried again with an amendment to the state's constitution. That too was thrown out by a judge on the grounds that the legislature is so gerrymandered that its members don't represent the people (GOP legislative leaders have filed an appeal).
As the NPR report noted, politicians often use charges of "fraud" to confuse the issue when what they're really worried about is people whose voting choices they might not like. They are, in short, afraid of democracy.
People in both parties can play the game. Some Democrats use emotionally loaded words such as "purge" to exaggerate such procedures as challenging registrations. The danger in all this is that Americans will begin to have serious doubts about the democratic process and the results of our elections. And if their candidate loses, people might conclude that the election was rigged. Then what happens?
We're already seeing the hard-won gains in voting rights for minorities being eroded because of fears.
The country is deeply divided. We have to contend with Russians and others manipulating social media to make us lose faith in our system.
We don't need our political leaders further whipping up divisions and doubts with reckless and misleading rhetoric.
Winston-Salem Journal on state bills that would allow teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns on school property:
There is no other way to put this: Arming teachers in North Carolina classrooms is as bone-headed an idea this year as it was last year. And the year before.
Small wonder a number of public school teachers have expressed fierce opposition to a pair of bills in the General Assembly that would do precisely that.
A bill in the state House would allow teachers and staff members to carry concealed handguns on school property "to respond to acts of violence or imminent threats of violence." It also would provide 16 hours of active-shooter training.
Related legislation in the Senate would make it worth their while financially, providing law enforcement training and giving raises to the teachers who receive it. It also, by the way, would make them sworn law enforcement officers.
Among the Senate bill's primary sponsors is Jerry Tillman (R-Guilford and Randolph). "This is an idea whose time has come," Tillman told The (Raleigh) News & Observer last week.
Well, no. It isn't. Just ask the experts.
"We are adamantly opposed to any plan that would put firearms in staff hands in our schools," Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), told Joe Killian of N.C. Policy Watch last week. "It's just a disaster waiting to happen."
The problems with both bills should be obvious. Being a teacher is stressful and challenging enough in itself. So is being a law enforcement officer. And we're asking that some teachers do both?
The proper responses to school violence are more mental health services and counseling, reasonable screening and restrictions on gun use and purchases, physical upgrades that harden school buildings against intruders and more school resource officers where necessary. But not teachers packing heat.
Professionally trained law officers who graduate from police academies and patrol beats daily know how hard it is to confront life-or-death situations. It tests one's nerves, reflexes and split-second judgment.
To expect someone to teach algebra and history, raise test scores, manage classrooms, chaperone extracurricular activities and moonlight as armed guards is unrealistic, unfair and unsafe.
Still, some proponents see the idea as a way not only to improve resources but to stretch tax dollars. So, while we're at it, let's save maintenance money by training other teachers as plumbers, electricians and roof repairmen.
No, let's not.
Similar bills like these have come and died in committee. These latest ones deserve a similar fate.
The Fayetteville Observer on state and federal disaster aid:
Hurricanes Matthew and Florence are disasters that just won't quit. The flood waters from the two extraordinary storms receded long ago. But for some people who suffered through the historically high water, the recovery hasn't even begun. How can that be? And how do we improve?
Stories in Sunday's Observer documented the struggles of many residents whose lives were shattered by the flooding from the two hurricanes that dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on this region, causing rivers to rise far above levels ever seen and into neighborhoods that had never been considered flood-prone. For thousands of homeowners and businesses, the damage was compounded by the fact that they had no flood insurance, because there was no recent record of floodwaters rising to the elevations we saw in each of the storms.
The extensive damage has sent state and federal officials back to the drawing boards, remaking the flood-zone maps that have long been used to determine where flood insurance was necessary. The flooding from Matthew and Florence will — or should, anyway — profoundly affect future development patterns, zoning maps, even how roads, bridges and other infrastructure are built.
The decisions are rooted in the belief of many government officials — including Gov. Roy Cooper — that this is our "new normal." Most climate scientists concur with that assessment. ...
It's 29 months since Matthew's floodwaters receded, and people who live in Fayetteville's Hollywood Heights neighborhood are still waiting for funding from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which buys out homes in flood zones or elevates them. Federal funding hasn't yet been released, although a few applications for buyouts are expected to be approved soon. Other aid has been held up at the state level, where there was simply no bureaucracy that had the staffing or training to cope with such a massive flooding event. State officials say they are making progress.
State officials point fingers of blame at the federal government's disaster-assistance bureaucracy, and federal officials point back at the state, saying, for example, that North Carolina has a long track record of being slow to spend grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. From what we can see, both can fairly be assessed some of the blame.
But if there are still delays in aid for Hurricane Matthew recovery, what does that mean for the victims of Hurricane Florence, which swamped this region just over six months ago? It likely means more lengthy delays, because neither federal nor state disaster-recovery systems are built for the extensive damage we've seen in the past two or three years across the country.
What needs to change? Plenty. It begins with building state and federal disaster-response systems that are muscular enough to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. They need more money, and it's clear that more extensive relief funding needs to be banked up. And then we need a big effort, in North Carolina and across the Southeast, to take preventive action that will build our flood resilience.