Like a prairie dog popping out of its hole every once in a while, the McCrae Dowless story surfaces again. This time, one of his accomplices, Ginger Shae Eason, said in court on Monday that she had not known what Dowless paid her to do was illegal. She also claimed that “she saw him throw an envelope in the trash at the campaign headquarters which she believed contained absentee ballots.” Dowless also appeared in court this past Monday. His attorney asked to withdraw from the case.

gif via giphy

The prairie dog is scheduled to pop back out of its hole on September 23rd, when the case is back in court.

The House has passed SB683, the bill to fix absentee ballot rules and to reinstate the last Saturday of early voting. The good news: it pilots a program to pay for postage for absentee ballots and allows approved assistance in filling out ballot request forms for those with disabilities. The less-than-good-news: it also delays a ban, originally enacted in 2013, on touchscreen voting machines that were due to be phased out by this year. So counties with these machines WILL be using them, unfortunately, in 2020. The bill goes back to the Senate for debate and, hopefully, approval.

On Monday, Michelle illuminated the NCGA leadership's strategy in the wake of their own stubbornness in refusing to compromise with Governor Cooper on a budget: “The House and Senate will begin passing piecemeal bills to fund isolated sections of the budget, including measures to fund Medicaid Transformation, teacher pay, and state employee pay...”, and they wasted no time. Yesterday, NCGA leadership sent a passel of bills for state employee and teacher pay raises. These got quick approval in the Senate and are expected to pass the House. Together, these bills amount to the same thing that's in the vetoed budget. But there's a separate bill that won't have such an easy time: HB426, which Democratic Rep. Maryann Black called “an insult” for its pitifully small cost of living increases for retirees: just half of a percent.

Earlier this week the State Supreme Court heard arguments in the cases upon which I reported 2 weeks ago: 6 death penalty cases that shouldn't have been death penalty cases at all under the Racial Justice Act which was enacted in 2009 and repealed in 2013. People who filed claims in 2010, while the law was still in effect, have finally gotten their chance to prove that if it weren't for racism, their sentences would not have been capital. Read a summary of Monday's hearings here.

In an incredibly frustrating turn of events, the newly elected (Democratic) chair of the NC State Board of Elections, Damon Circosta, has broken a tied vote in favor of certifying barcode-based voting machines, going against the advice of many in his party and many more voters and activists across North Carolina. He then voted against a “motion that would allow voters to choose whether they used a paper ballot or a ballot marking device with a barcode on Election Day”, siding with Republicans. Mr. Circosta, are you sure you registered yourself with the correct party? Was there a barcode on your voter registration form instead of a hand-marked human-readable form?

Somewhat less surprisingly, Thom Tillis has already racked up a significant amount of money in his reelection campaign, thanks to several Republican megadonors (at least not David Koch). Republicans know that North Carolina will be even more of a battleground than it was in 2018 and 2016. Hopefully the Democrats realize that too.

If you'd like to help them, here's Sen. Erica Smith's website, Commissioner Trevor Fuller's website, and Sen. Cal Cunningham's website.

Ding-dong, the Duke rate hike bill is dead! Sort of. The bill would have allowed Duke Energy to lock in a series of rate increases for a longer period of time instead of re-evaluating those rate increases yearly. On Tuesday, SB559 came to the floor of the House and passed, but in a different form. “The House changed the bill to authorize a study of rate-making with a 63-51 vote...after arguments that such a major change earned more discussion and consideration.” We'll be watching this bill as it returns to the Senate and gets voted on in its alternate form there.

Good news (for now) for state employees: the new State Health Plan, which did not until last week include several major hospitals (including UNC) as in-network partners, will now be just as robust as it has been. Treasurer Folwell's Clear Pricing Plan had made several major hospitals balk, and a consensus still has not been reached, because in order to get major hospitals like UNC, Atrium, and Novant to sign on, Folwell had to agree to a hybrid program that let those partners who disagreed with the Clear Pricing Plan continue with their business as usual. This is, as Charlotte teacher Michael Landers says, “...a long-term issue and a Band-aid has been put on it.”

Tags: (ICYMI, NC-09, budget, absentee ballots, healthcare, 2020 elections)

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