TIME 2014 Election

Court Blocks Parts of North Carolina Voting Law

North Carolina's law has been fiercely criticized by voting rights advocates

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked parts of a sweeping North Carolina voting law from taking hold ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision to allow provisions of the law that eliminate same-day-registration and the casting of out-of-precinct ballots. The appeals court on Wednesday still allowed other portions of the law to stand, including the cut of seven early voting days. But in a 69-page opinion Wednesday, the appeals court said an August decision by the lower district court to allow the full law was flawed.

The decision comes just weeks before the early voting period is set to begin in the Tar Heel State on Oct. 23. “The right to vote is fundamental,” Judge James Wynn wrote in the majority opinion. “And a tight timeframe before an election does not diminish that right.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether or not the state will appeal. North Carolina’s law has been one of the most criticized by voting rights advocates since the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional, which opened the door for states to enact more voting restrictions.

TIME voting rights

Voting Rights Battles Heat Up Ahead of Midterm Elections

Voting booths in polling place
Getty Images

After Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas may send voting rights cases to the Supreme Court

Updated: September 30, 2014

Voting rights advocacy groups and Ohio state officials submitted dueling briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Saturday and Sunday in a fight over early voting in the state.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Appeals court for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to block Ohio’s new election rules, which would cut back early voting from 35 to 28 days before the election and limit early voting on weekends. The courts found that Ohio’s new laws if enacted would violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ohio officials have asked Justice Elena Kagan to overrule the state courts and prevent voting from starting Sept. 30. She could hand down a decision as early as today.

Ohio is just the latest flashpoint as early voting fights are heating up around the country ahead of midterms. Democrats seek to mobilize lower-income voters who are less likely to turn out for general elections if they have to take time off of work to vote on a Tuesday. Republicans object, claiming the risk of voter fraud and other concerns require tighter voting restrictions.

Here are the three other voting rights laws cases that could work their way up to the Supreme Court before the midterms:

Wisconsin- On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put into effect a law requiring most voters to present photo identification at the polls. Proponents of the law say it will discourage voter fraud, while critics say it will deter minorities from voting. On Friday, the entire Seventh Circuit split 5-5 on whether to hear the case, which may send it to the Supreme Court.

North Carolina – North Carolina’s 2013 state voting law, which eliminates same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and shortens the early voting window by ten days, will be in place for the first time this year in a statewide election. A panel of three judges heard oral arguments about the law on Sept. 25, with one judge pointedly asking, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?” The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, especially if the Fourth Circuit rules against the law.

Texas – Last week, trial ended in a challenge to Texas’s voter identification law requiring voters to display government-issued forms of identification. Under the stringent law, a concealed-carry permit is a valid form of identification, but a student ID is not. The judge is expected to rule soon on whether the law violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and if the decision comes out against the law, the state could appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Update: The Supreme Court on September 29th blocked early voting in Ohio. The order will stand until the Court acts on an appeal by state officials.

TIME 2014 Election

A Conservative Group Sent Voter Registration Information to a Cat

And hundreds of the other forms weren’t purr-fect either

Oh, for the coveted feline vote.

In a bid to register conservative North Carolinians to vote, the political group Americans For Prosperity mistakenly sent voter registration forms with incorrect information to hundreds of men, women—and at least one cat.

The faulty forms went out along with hundreds of thousands of normal voter registration mailers, AFP said. Some of those forms, numbering in the hundreds, included inaccurate information, like the wrong date of the deadline to register or the wrong location for where to send the completed form, the News & Observer reports. And at least one such form was addressed to a woman’s cat.

“AFP Foundation has registered thousands of North Carolinians to vote through this registration drive, which is a great thing for the democratic process and getting more people involved,” AFP spokesman Levi Russell said. “While there were non-substantive errors in our mailers, the program has been highly successful so far. Any large mailing even with 99.9% accuracy is always going to have a few inaccurate recipients, but we’ll always be striving to make it better. Ultimately our forms are working as intended—when a resident fills out our form and sends it in, they will be registered to vote, period.”

The liberal group American Bridge nonetheless jumped on the blunder to needle the Koch brother-funded conservative group in an email to journalists and supporters.

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AFP has spent $25 million on ads this year but has recently focused its energy on voter registration initiatives in North Carolina, where Democratic groups have outspent Republicans two-to-one in booked ads, according to the Associated Press. North Carolina’s contest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis is one of the year’s most competitive races.

Inviting a cat to register to vote may have been an even bigger mistake than AFP realizes. What little data science has gathered on the political tendencies of felines suggests they may not be the kind of voters AFP is looking for anyway.

TIME Crime

Judge Frees 2 North Carolina Men Imprisoned for 30 Years

Henry McCollum
Henry McCollum sits on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., on Aug. 12, 2014. He and his half-brother Leon Brown have spent more than three decades in prison for the alleged rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983 Travis Long—AP

DNA evidence exonerates two half-brothers convicted of the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl

Updated: Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.

Two half-brothers who were convicted in the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old North Carolina girl were ordered free Tuesday, after a judge ruled that they had been wrongly imprisoned thanks to newly discovered DNA evidence.

North Carolina Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions of death-row inmate Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, who had been serving a life sentence. Both men originally confessed to the rape and murder of Sabrina Buie, who was found dead in a soybean field in rural North Carolina.

The ruling comes after an investigation by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that found no DNA evidence at the crime scene that could be traced back to McCollum or Brown.

But a cigarette found and tested in 2010 contained the DNA of another man, Roscoe Artis, who lived a block away from where the crime took place and is serving a life sentence for another murder and rape within weeks of Buie’s death.

“It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost,” said Ken Rose, a lawyer who represents McCollum, in a statement.

McCollum and Brown, both mentally challenged, initially signed statements saying they were responsible for Buie’s death. According to Brown’s defense lawyers, the two signed the statements believing they would go home afterward.

“When Henry gave his confession, he got up to walk out of the interrogation room,” says W. James Payne, a lawyer representing Brown. “He started to walk out the door.”

Both appealed their convictions over the years. In 2006, Brown filed a motion to test the DNA of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene. The results eventually excluded both McCollum and Brown. Several years later, the state’s innocence commission got involved and in July announced that DNA on the cigarette butt actually belonged to Artis.

That led to the scene Tuesday, in which Judge Sasser announced that the convictions for both men were to be overturned.

“I think I was crying harder than Leon,” says Ann Kirby, one of Brown’s lawyers. “To hear the word innocent in a courtroom is the pinnacle for any lawyer. It was history making.”

Both men had been imprisoned for three decades, McCollum being the longest-serving inmate on death row in North Carolina. Brown was on death row for five years until a retrial dismissed his murder charge.

“He always said, ‘They can go to the North Pole, and they’re not going to find anything,’” Kirby says, referring to Brown. “When we heard the verdict, we said, ‘They went to the North Pole.’ And he said, ‘They sure did.’”

MONEY Careers

WATCH: From IBM to Scooter Salesman

A North Carolina entrepreneur went from working in the computer industry to running a successful scooter store.

TIME weather

Hurricane Arthur Heads Northeast, Brings July 4 Travel Chaos

Gridlock spans the Eastern U.S. with more than a thousand flights canceled on a weekend when 41 million Americans are expected to travel

Updated 12:11 p.m. E.T.

Hurricane Arthur made its way north up the East Coast on Friday, after forcing thousands of Fourth of July vacationers to evacuate and creating gridlock on highways and skyways as rain scrambled holiday plans and rescheduled fireworks shows.

After the hurricane made landfall late Thursday night, the National Weather Service said North Carolina could get eight inches of rain on Friday, while areas as far north as Cape Cod in Massachusetts could se six inches. Arthur became a Category 2 storm overnight, and fierce winds were expected to push into Virginia on Friday. Authorities warned of coastal flooding and dangerous ocean conditions up and down the East Coast, and tropical storm warnings were in effect all the way to Cape Cod. It weakened to a Category 1 storm Friday morning as it moved up the East Coast.

Despite sunny skies forecast for the weekend, heavy rain had already wreaked havoc on Fourth of July plans. Cities as far north as Boston had rescheduled their fireworks for Thursday night or later in the weekend in anticipation of soggy weather.

Arthur was the earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina since record-keeping efforts began in 1851. The storm system continued to bring heavy rains and winds of up to 100 m.p.h. early Friday morning, with meteorologists anticipating “little change in strength” as the storm grazes the Eastern seaboard over the course of the day.

More than 21,000 people across North and South Carolina were without electricity early Friday morning, the Associated Press reports. The storm was heading northeast at 22 m.p.h. and was about 80 miles north of Cape Lookout, N.C., by early Friday, CNN reports.

Arthur created a pattern of gridlock spanning the U.S. More than a thousand flights had been canceled by midday Thursday—a frustrating start to a weekend when 41 million Americans were projected to travel.

“I found out at 5 p.m. [on Wednesday] that my 7:50 p.m. flight was canceled due to ‘air-traffic congestion [because of Arthur],” Taylor Laub, who was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia from Atlanta, told TIME from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Her rescheduled flight had been “successively delayed” into late Thursday night.

The scene at Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday afternoon was chaos as Hurricane Arthur continued to gather strength off the coast of North Carolina. Passengers on flights scheduled to leave mid-afternoon were still waiting at 8:30 p.m.

One such passenger was David Luterman, who did his best to ignore the turmoil around him, reading a magazine in front of Gate 2 in Reagan National’s Terminal A, waiting to take off on what should have been a 3:40 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Boston. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize,” a Jet Blue employee announced over the loudspeaker around 5:45 p.m. “We’re just waiting for the lightning to clear for the ramp to open so we can land, disembark and clean the plane to continue on to Boston. We hope to have you on your way as soon as possible.”

Three hours later, that flight still hadn’t boarded.

Luterman had hoped make it back to his Boston-area home to spend the holiday weekend with his family. “I really want to get home,” he said.

In the days preceding the storm, state authorities warned of flooding and other damage, prompting mandatory evacuations in vulnerable areas and forcing thousands of vacationers to make alternate plans for their Fourth of July weekend. Tourism officials in North Carolina had initially projected a quarter of a million people to travel to the beaches of the Outer Banks for the holiday.

“We’ve lost a lot of business because of the storm — people are afraid of hurricanes,” said Jeff, the night manager of the Nags Head Inn in Nags Head, N.C., early Friday morning. “We were expecting to be 80 to 90% full, and now it’s looking more like 60.”

Storm preparation is a familiar routine along the North Carolina coast, where some of the most devastating tropical cyclones of recent years have made landfall. As Arthur churned in the Atlantic on Thursday, local supermarkets were crowded with residents stocking up on flashlights and bottled water. The town of Surf City canceled its Fourth of July celebration.

Rough surf and rip currents will remain a major concern along East Coast beaches, and swimmers have been advised to be extra cautious.

At the same time, a good number of North Carolinians have responded with indifference, dismissing the ongoing media coverage of the hurricane as unnecessarily alarmist.

“We had a big increase in sales today, which is normal when hurricanes come,” an employee at a Harris Teeter grocery store in the beach town of Kitty Hawk said. “But it’s really not too bad. It seems pretty overhyped.”

-Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small/Washington

TIME weather

Hurricane Arthur Threatens July 4 Weekend for Many

Hurricane Arthur 4th of July
Kyler Cook, 18, walks through the storm surge of Hurricane Arthur in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., on July 3, 2014. Randall Hill—Reuters

“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a press conference after declaring a state of emergency

Updated 11:34 p.m. E.T. Thursday.

Hurricane Arthur has finally made landfall near the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Arthur reached land around 11:15 p.m. on Thursday between Cape Lookout and Beaufort, N.C.

Arthur was a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 m.p.h. (160 km/h) and was located about 65 miles (105 km) southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., the Associated Press reported. It is moving northeast at 18 m.p.h. (30 km/h).

Fourth of July plans came to a screeching halt for many across the U.S. on Thursday, as the effects of a Category 1 hurricane began to work their way up the East Coast, causing flight delays and cancellations, and evacuations in some critical areas.

The scene at Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday afternoon was chaos as Hurricane Arthur continued to gather strength off the coast of North Carolina. Passengers on flights scheduled to leave mid-afternoon were still waiting at 8:30 p.m.

One such passenger was David Luterman, who did his best to ignore the turmoil around him, reading a magazine in front of Gate 2 in Reagan National’s Terminal A, waiting to take off on what should have been a 3:40 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Boston. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize,” a Jet Blue employee announced over the loudspeaker around 5:45 p.m. “We’re just waiting for the lightning to clear for the ramp to open so we can land, disembark and clean the plane to continue on to Boston. We hope to have you on your way as soon as possible.”

Three hours later, that flight still hadn’t boarded.

Luterman had hoped make it back to his Boston-area home to spend the holiday weekend with his family. “I really want to get home,” he said.

Washington remained under a severe-storm warming until 9 p.m. Thursday. Tropical-storm warnings were also issued Thursday afternoon for Nantucket Island and parts of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, AP reported, though the full brunt of the storm itself likely won’t reach that far north until late Friday.

At the next gate over, a woman who only wanted to be known as H.R. clutched in one hand the remnants of a three-hour-old salad, her son’s tickets, passport and her iPhone in another. She was trying to get her 13-year-old son to Toronto where his five cousins were eagerly awaiting his two-week visit. That flight and one to Montreal were canceled.

“I booked a flight to Thailand for myself months ago,” H.R. said. “I leave tomorrow but if I can’t get him out,” she said, poking her lanky son who towered over her, “I can’t go. The other airline isn’t going to be sympathetic about Air Canada’s cancellations.”

Every gate in the terminal had people stacked in line, haggling with gate agents over tickets and delays. The walls were lined with would-be passengers as empty seats were not to be found. “It’s going to be a long night,” said John Henry, whose flight to Miami for a bachelor party was already two hours delayed. He and his buddies had already downed a few beers at the airport bar. “But I feel like I went straight to hangover. This is un-fun.”

Arthur’s current estimated trajectory has it grazing North Carolina’s northern seashore by Friday morning, prompting officials to order a mandatory evacuation of Hatteras Island — one of the many barrier islands making up the Outer Banks, where a quarter of a million people were projected to converge for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to the Associated Press. “Don’t put your stupid hat on,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a press conference Thursday, after declaring a state of emergency in 25 coastal counties, urging swimmers and surfers to avoid the ocean in light of the impending storm. “Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm,” McCrory said.

Here’s the latest storm track, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

hurricane-arthur-track
NOAA

Hurricane Arthur is forecasted to weaken by Friday night and become a post-tropical cyclone by Saturday.

[AP]

MONEY Ask the Expert

How Do I Find the Best Place to Retire?

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I live in New Jersey. Which state would be financially better to retire to: Pennsylvania or North Carolina? – Kevin, Bridgewater, NJ

A: Your cost of living in retirement can make or break your quality of life, so it’s smart to take financial factors into account as you decide where to live. Moving from New Jersey where taxes are steep and home prices are high to a more affordable area will allow your savings to stretch further. Housing and property taxes are the biggest expenses for older Americans, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

By those measures, North Carolina and Pennsylvania both stack up fairly well. Neither state taxes Social Security benefits or has an estate tax, though Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax and North Carolina will begin taxing pension income for the 2014 tax year. When it comes to cost of living, Pennsylvania has a slight edge. The median price of homes in Pennsylvania is $179,000 vs. $199,000 for North Carolina, according to Zillow. Income tax is a flat 3.07% in Pennsylvania while North Carolina has a 5.8% income tax rate. You can find more details on taxes in each state at the Tax Foundation and CCH. But both states have cities—Raleigh and Pittsburgh—that landed at the top of MONEY’s most recent Best Places to Retire list.

Of course, you need to look beyond taxes and home prices when choosing a place to live in retirement, says Miami financial planner Ellen Siegel. Does your dream locale have high quality, accessible healthcare or will you have to travel far to find good doctors? Will you be near a transportation hub or will you live in a rural area that’s expensive to fly out of when you want to visit family and friends?

There are lifestyle considerations, too. If you like to spend time outside, will the climate allow you enjoy those outdoor activities most of the year? If you favor rich cultural offerings and good restaurants nearby, what will you find? Small towns tend to be less expensive but may not offer a vibrant arts scene or many dining options.

To determine whether a place is really a good fit for your retirement, you need to spend more than a few vacation days there. So practice retirement by visiting at different times of the year for longer periods. Stay in a neighborhood area where you want to live and get to know area residents. “Having a strong social network is important as you get older and if you move to a new area, you want to make sure you can make meaningful connections and find fulfilling activities,” says Siegel. By test driving your retirement locations before you move, you”ll have a better shot at getting it right.

Have a question about your finances? Send it to asktheexpert@moneymail.com.

TIME Education

N.C. School Principal Allegedly Made Students Walk for Hours in Heat

Furious parents say the kids were punished for not wearing their uniforms on the last day of school

School officials in North Carolina’s Cumberland County are investigating allegations that an elementary school principal forced students to walk for at least two hours in the hot sun as a punishment for not wearing their uniforms.

Parents at Manchester Elementary School in Spring Lake, N.C., say Principal Tammy Holland ordered the students to walk on a dirt track until their parents picked them up or brought a change of clothes last Tuesday — the last day of the school year — according to the Fayetteville Observer.

Students, who believed they could skip the uniform on the last day of school, were not allowed to eat while they walked in humid air with temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the high 80s, parents say. Teachers were also allegedly instructed not to give students any water.

Superintendent Frank Till Jr. said that, if true, the incident would be considered corporal punishment, as Cumberland County schools prohibit using physical activity as a form of punishment for students outside of athletics.

When reached for comment by the Observer, Holland referred inquiries to Till.

“I want her removed from that school so she can never make a mistake like that again,” Laquitta Lockhart, a parent of a fifth-grader, told the paper. “When I got out there, they had stopped under the tree because it was so hot. It would break your heart.”

[Fayetteville Observer]

TIME Environment

Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners in Toxic Water Case

Court says too much time has passed in North Carolina case for legal action against electronics company CTS Corp

The Supreme Court ruled against homeowners from North Carolina attempting to a sue an electronics company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago.

The court ruled that the state’s statute of repose, which states that a plaintiff loses the right to seek property damages 10 years after contamination occurred, should stand. The ruling is a setback for property owners in similar positions.

The case on Monday involved property owners living where CTS Corp. made electronics in 1987. The residents did not realize their water was contaminated with chemicals until 2009, the Associated Press reports. The chemicals in the water can cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancers.

Homeowners argued that under federal environment laws, their case was still valid despite the statute of repose. The Supreme Court did not agree.

The ruling is a blow for U.S. Marines families involved in a separate case in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It’s estimated that up to 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated groundwater over several decades in Camp Lejeune. The Associated Press says the U.S. government is relying on the same law to avoid liability for the contamination.

[AP]

 

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