In a letter delivered Friday to NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the US Postal Service warns that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.” As a result, state election officials are recommending that voters cast their absentee ballots early -- and at least a week before Election Day. Voters can request absentee ballots now, which will begin mailing on September 4. Completed ballots may also be delivered in person to your county board of elections office or to an open early voting site during the early voting period.
On Wednesday Governor Cooper announced nearly $100 million in emergency education spending from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER fund), part of the federal CARES Act. Nearly half of the money will go toward increased hiring of school nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists; the remainder will be spent on increased programming for at-risk and disabled students, tuition assistance to students in Community College programs for high-demand fields, emergency assistance for college students in the state, and support for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts. While Republicans in the General Assembly had asked the Governor to use GEER funds for additional bonuses to teachers and other public school employees, he maintained that such use of funds was not allowed by the law.
On Monday employees at UNC system schools filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court, seeking a restraining order to stop the UNC system schools from forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit was filed the same day that UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bob Blouin defended administrators’ decision not to reveal a recommendation from the Orange County Health Department to move all classes online and restrict on-campus housing until after it was reported in the media. Later in the week, UNC-Chapel Hill confirmed multiple clusters of COVID-19 on campus, prompting the chair of UNC-CH’s faculty, Dr. Mimi Chapman, to request that the UNC Board of Governors allow the school’s Chancellor to make decisions about whether to discontinue in-person instruction.
Economic and Housing Policy
Governor Cooper informed Republican lawmakers this week that his administration has prepared an application to provide the state matching funds required by President’s Trump’s recent Executive Order extending supplements to unemployment benefits. The $400 boost to unemployment benefits requires $100 in state funds to go along with a federal payment of $300. Whether the state funds will come from the Unemployment Trust Fund as the Governor wishes or from Federal Coronavirus Relief monies has yet to be determined. Cooper also urges extending benefits for 24 weeks as opposed to the existing 12-week duration.
On Thursday a coalition of groups filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state law requiring people convicted of a felony to pay all fines and fees included in their sentence before their voting rights are restored. The groups, which include the North Carolina NAACP, also launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue of people who have served their sentences but remain disenfranchised and to pressure state lawmakers into addressing the topic.
On Friday the NC Supreme Court issued a decision in a case related to the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, finding that the defendant, Marcus Robinson, who had successfully appealed his death sentence under the law when it was in place, could not be resentenced to death given its repeal. The 4-3 majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, found that such reimposition of the death sentence would constitute double jeopardy. The Racial Justice Act, a state law that allowed defendants to make a showing that racial bias tainted their trials, was passed in 2009 and repealed in 2013. Another ruling related to the case, issued two months ago, found that the repeal of the RJA could not be applied retroactively to pending cases.