News: CJ Exclusives

CJ Politics week in review, Nov. 2-Nov. 6

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed.

Reopening schools: Good news for schools. Welcoming students back to the classroom hasn’t led to a rise in COVID-19 cases, state health officials reported Thursday, Nov. 5. “We’re not seeing schools as a big driver of cases,” Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer, said during a State Board of Education meeting. COVID-19 clusters have popped up in schools, but not to the degree that some feared when students returned to the classroom. About 0.1% of cases come from K-12 clusters. Health officials haven’t linked any deaths to those clusters. Research shows young children are less likely to spread the virus or suffer severe symptoms. Only elementary schools are allowed to reopen fully in North Carolina. Middle and high schools must continue with remote instruction or alternate cohorts of students between in-person and virtual learning. 

Patience please: State election officials are urging patience as ballot counting continues in North Carolina. Around 116,200 absentee ballots and 40,766 provisional ballots were outstanding as of Friday morning, the N.C. State Board of Elections said. The remaining provisional and mail-in ballots won’t be counted until next week, meaning the final results won’t be known until Friday, Nov. 13. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by Thursday, Nov. 12 to count. Provisional ballots will be counted if election officials can determine the voter’s eligibility to vote. “The post-election process ensures that all eligible voters’ ballots are counted and that voters can be confident that the results are accurate,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, in a news release. The vote margins for the presidential race, state attorney general, and chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court are slim enough that the outstanding ballots could affect outcomes. 

Employee mistrust: Staff at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill are increasingly distrustful of the campus administration, a new report from the UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum finds. COVID-19 exacerbated employees’ distrust for those leading the university. Employees said they found out about COVID-19 clusters on campus through the news media instead of from university leaders. The report includes a list of recommendations to improve the relationship. Recommendations include increasing transparency, protecting vulnerable staff, taking responsibility for mistakes, and providing hazard pay for workers required to work on campus. 

Whoops: N.C. First Lady Kristin Cooper apologized for flipping off Trump supporters over the weekend. Cooper posted on Facebook on Election Day that she gave Trump supporters the bird when driving by one of their rallies Nov.1. “Was flipping off a brainwashed kid my finest hour? Probably not, but I can live with it,” Cooper wrote. The post went viral. Backlash was swift. Now the First Lady is backtracking. “My personal Facebook comments and actions leading to it were inappropriate, and I am so sorry. I apologize to anyone I may have hurt, and I ask for forgiveness,” Cooper told the News & Observer. The controversy comes just after Kristin Cooper’s husband, Gov. Roy Cooper, won re-election.

Electoral confidence: The N.C. GOP is confident President Trump and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, will hold their leads after election officials finish counting outstanding absentee ballots. It’s time to call North Carolina for Trump and Tillis, N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said during a news conference Friday, Nov. 6. Despite the confidence, the state Republican Party is calling on the N.C. Board of Elections to release the number of people who requested absentee ballots but voted in person. “We’ve seen nothing that would give us heartburn,” Whatley said. But the NCGOP wants the elections board to release the data so the media can finally call the election in North Carolina. There is no mathematical way for Democrat Joe Biden or Cal Cunningham to win in North Carolina, Whatley said.