Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Election law attorneys ask for rules to clarify new voting laws

Election law attorneys at Bailey & Dixon in Raleigh have petitioned the State Board of Elections seeking the adoption of three rules clarifying new voting laws approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, including the photo identification requirement, The Insider reports.

Under one proposed rule, a voter's name on his or her photo ID wouldn't have to match exactly the name on the voter's registration record. The rule gives examples of when the two names might not match, yet the voter should be able to cast a ballot anyway. They include abbreviations of a name, such as "John R. Doe" instead of "John Robert Doe;" alternate spellings of names, such as "Thomas Jimenez" instead of "Tomas Jimenez;" use of a common nickname, such as "Becky" or "Becca" instead of "Rebecca;" use of an uncommon nickname, such as "Tim Belk" instead of "Thomas M. Belk Jr." and use of a maiden name or hyphenated maiden-married name, such as "Jane Smith" instead of "Jane Doe" or "Jane Smith-Doe" instead of "Jane Doe."

A second rule would allow a voter to cast a ballot if addresses on the photo ID and voter's registration don't match. "The purpose of the photo identification requirement is proof of identity and not proof of address," the proposed rule states. The first two rules were proposed to establish guidelines and prevent election officials, "through overzealousness or misunderstanding," from ruling an ID invalid if there is an explainable difference between names or addresses, according to the comments filed with the proposed rules by attorney William Gilkeson Jr. The ID requirement takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

A third rule would prohibit party observers at the polls from being close enough to a voter to read the voter's ID or listen to the voter's conversation with a precinct official, challenge the voter's right to vote or "otherwise impede or interfere with the voting process or violate the privacy of the voter." The new election law allows political parties in each county to name up to 10 observers who may enter any polling place in that county. The law also allows any voter to challenge another voter in any precinct on Election Day. Those changes take effect Jan. 1. In his comments, Gilkeson wrote that current law specifies that an observer's role is to observe, not to impede the voting process.

Bailey & Dixon attorney Michael Weisel said the attorneys wanted to ensure consistent treatment and interpretation of the new laws across the 100 counties, in part to prevent confusion or chaos at polling places. "All the election law attorneys feel that these are good, common-sense explanations and procedures that reflect what the statute intends and will help facilitate the Election Day process," Weisel said.

It was unclear Thursday if the Board of Elections will consider the proposed rules. Elections Director Kim Strach didn't return a phone call. State Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, a main drafter of the new voting laws, also didn't return a call Thursday.

*** Get more N.C. political intelligence and a news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

*** Note to readers: The Dome Morning Memo is preparing to take a holiday break. It may appear intermittently when news demands but look for a robust return in January. In the meantime, keep checking Dome for the latest in North Carolina political news. And don’t miss the top newsmakers, quotes and stores in a year-in-review series that will debut next week. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: The NC Board of Elections meets in Raleigh at 9 a.m. The board may decide whether to remove from office a Beaufort County Board of Elections member who allegedly openly supported Cary physician Greg Brannon for U.S. Senate at a county Tea Party meeting in October. The state unemployment rate for November will released at 10 a.m. The rate, now 8 percent, has fallen for three straight months and is at its lowest point in nearly five years.

ORR TO RETIRE: Longtime Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr said Thursday that he will retire as executive director of the new Charlotte Airport Commission effective Dec. 31, ending his push to come back and run the airport he spent almost four decades helping to build, The Charlotte Observer reports.

Orr lost his city job this summer during a battle over control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. At the second-ever meeting, the commission named interim Charlotte Aviation Director Brent Cagle, who is currently in charge of the airport, as the commission’s interim executive director.

The commission’s move puts Cagle, who remains a city employee who reports to the city manager, in the executive director role at the airport commission, which was supposed to be a body to free the airport from the city’s alleged meddling. ... The fight over who should run Charlotte Douglas first publicly surfaced in January. Republican state legislators from Mecklenburg led the push to move control of the airport from Charlotte City Council – which ran Charlotte Douglas since 1935 – to an independent, regional board.

The city fought the move, and the resulting rift burned bridges between Charlotte and the state legislature in Raleigh, as well as between political factions in Charlotte. Along the way, Orr, who worked at the airport for nearly 40 years and ran it since 1989, lost his job, the fight ended up in court and Charlotte’s airport was left in limbo. Read more here.

POWER BILLS TO RISE: North Carolina’s tax law changes were designed to put more money in taxpayers’ pockets, but the new policies will marginally increase electric utility bills, The News & Observer reports. The N.C. Utilities Commission, which oversees rates customers pay, is reviewing how to apply the complex new tax law, and consumer advocates are urging the commission to limit its effect on the public as much as possible.

The first tax changes are effective Jan. 1, but some don’t fully go into effect for another year. They will end up costing Duke Energy and Duke Energy Progress customers about $1 a month, or a little less if the Utilities Commission decides to shave off a few nickels.

The reason customers will pay more is that corporations are getting tax breaks, while consumers will see their taxes on electricity sales increase from 3 percent to 7 percent.

The reduction of the corporate income tax – from 6.9 percent to 6 percent next month, and then to 5 percent in 2015 – will mean utility companies will pocket more money from customer bills unless the Utilities Commission cuts rates accordingly.

Most of the new tax changes will be automatically factored into utility rates under House Bill 998, which became state law earlier this year. But one tax change is up to the Utilities Commission: whether the reduction of the corporate income tax will be adjusted in utility rates, or whether the power companies get to keep the difference. Read more here.

MORE ENERGY NEWS: North Carolina regulators have approved an experimental Duke Energy Carolinas program to let large customers offset their new energy needs with green power, The Charlotte Observer reports. The Green Source Rider, approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission Thursday, responds to a growing appetite for solar and other renewable energy by big customers such as data centers. For a premium price, Duke will match those customers with renewable energy from Duke itself or third-party suppliers. That energy will be in addition to the power generated to satisfy North Carolina’s green-energy law. Only large commercial and industrial customers such as manufacturers, big-box retailers or college campuses will be eligible to take part. Duke said it designed the program to have no cost impact on other customers. Read more here.

CHILDHOOD POVERTY IN NC: North Carolina Health News has created a nifty interactive map that shows which North Carolina counties have the highest rates of child poverty and allows you to track each county’s child-poverty rate since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008. Clicking on a county will also show the median income and the October (most recent) unemployment statistics for each county. To check out the map go here.

FOXX TACKLES EDUCATION: Rep. Virginia Foxx says she can empathize with struggling low-income students. She used to be one.

Foxx describes herself as “somebody who was extraordinarily poor and had a tough time, really tough time, getting my degree.” As an undergraduate, she got married, worked full-time, had a baby, and went to school part-time. She typed other students’ papers at night for 35 cents a page. It took seven years to graduate.

As one of the most conservative members of Congress, known for provocative and polarizing commentary, Foxx said she feels she must balance her belief in less government and lower taxes with a desire to channel federal financial aid money to students who need help. Now as Congress prepares to reauthorize the most important law about the federal government’s role in higher education, the Republican lawmaker from Banner Elk, N.C., is playing a major role.

In preparation for congressional debates over higher education policy, Foxx has chaired a series of hearings about college affordability as chairwoman of the higher education subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“From the beginning of my life I’ve known that education was the key to get out of poverty,” she said in an interview earlier this month, just before the House recessed for the holidays. “And so I’ve always been dedicated to helping people like that.” Read more here.