Future shock: Winter is coming, but state forecasters say to expect “a little of everything.” Page A2
After having a week off, three area Coaches talk about how their teams prepare for tonight’s High School PLayoff Matchups ââ Sports
RALEIGH — North Carolina judges have officially delayed candidate filing for the state’s congressional seats while they sort out whether replacement districts approved by Republican legislators who lost another political gerrymandering case should be used for next year’s elections.
The three-judge panel’s order, filed Thursday, means election officials can’t accept congressional candidate paperwork when the three-week filing period begins for other 2020 races on Dec. 2.
On the same day, the judges will hold a hearing that will address whether a lawsuit filed by voters challenging the previous district lines should end because the General Assembly enacted a new map last week. State election officials have said the congressional primary could still be held March 3 as previously scheduled if a final map is set by Dec. 15.
Last month, the state judges blocked the 2016 map from being used in the 2020 election, saying evidence showed it was likely the lines were drawn with extreme partisan bias favoring the GOP. They suggested a delayed primary could be avoided if legislators quickly redrew the map.
Ten of the 13 current U.S. House members are Republicans in a state considered a presidential battleground and where Democrats remain the state’s largest bloc of registered voters.
The new map would appear to give Republicans an 8-5 seat advantage, threatening the reelections of two Republicans, U.S. Reps. Mark Walker of Greensboro and George Holding of Raleigh.
In a court filing, attorneys for the Democratic and unaffiliated voters who sued contend the new districts are just “another extreme and obvious partisan gerrymander that violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters.” They want the court to redraw the 2016 map.
They say 10 of the districts remain extreme partisan outliers compared with “nonpartisan” maps created by a redistricting expert, packing Democrats into five districts so that the others are noncompetitive. The lawsuit has been bankrolled by a national Democratic group.
Republican legislators who were sued over the 2016 map say the replacement map is fair and responded to input from Democrats and the public. They had asked the state judges last week to dismiss the lawsuit soon so candidate filing could begin as scheduled.
The GOP-controlled General Assembly was ordered in September to redraw dozens of state legislative districts by these same judges, who declared those boundaries were illegal partisan gerrymanders, too.
GREENSBORO — Guilford County will spend about $2 million for new voting machines that use hand-marked ballots instead of the current supply of touchscreen, digital terminals.
The board voted 6-2 Thursday evening to go ahead with purchasing about 220 ballot scanners that both read and tabulate paper ballots to comply with a state law that takes effect next month.
The law requires the use of voting systems with paper ballots that voters can verify before submitting. County officials asked state legislators for a delay that would allow them to continue using the current touch-screen system through the 2020 election cycle, but were rebuffed.
Commissioners Carlvena Foster and Hank Henning voted against buying the new equipment. Commissioner Justin Conrad abstained.
Conrad said he was concerned that pending changes in federal voting laws would put a federal ban on the system the county was about to buy, the same way that the new state law has made Guilford’s existing system unusable.
County director of elections Charlie Collicutt said that it was a legitimate concern that a new federal law could invalidate some types of more elaborate voting technologies.
But of the equipment the board ultimately voted to buy, he said that he didn’t have that fear that he had with the other systems.
In a split vote last month, the county Board of Elections selected the hand-marked system over another that produced paper ballots but also used touchscreen technology similar to Guilford’s current equipment.
Guilford’s new system uses computer technology to scan and count ballots. But rather than voting on a computer screen as they do now, voters will fill out ballots the “old fashioned” way, using a pen to fill in multiple-choice bubbles denoting their selections.
County officials had planned to spend up to $8 million if the higher-tech alternative had been chosen, so “this style of voting machine will save the county approximately $6 million in upfront capital costs,” county administrators said in their written budget request.
“The unused $6 million can now be used by the county for other fiscal needs,” they said. “However, the selection will require an annual operating purchase of approximately $500,000 in paper ballots.”
Guilford officials had estimated the new system would cost $3 million or more, but they said Thursday the overall price will be lower because the county will receive a “trade-in credit” for its current equipment from the contractor, Election Systems & Software.
The purchase also includes about 2,000 portable “voting booths” that can be set up at precincts during elections to give people privacy as they mark their ballots.
The new system can be used by people with visual disabilities and provides “voter assist terminals” for every precinct to offer that service.
The “hand-marked” system was tested at a High Point precinct during recent municipal elections and it performed well, Collicutt told the commissioners Thursday evening.
Thursday’s purchase agreement will add about $185,000 per year in annual licensing, maintenance and warranty fees, election officials said.
Collicutt told commissioners that although the new system’s costs on the front end were significantly less than more elaborate technology, the high costs of printing many thousands of ballots every election would “equalize” that advantage as time passes.
State legislators changed the voting-machine law that takes effect next month to emphasize paper ballots as a way to ensure adequate records exist for recounts in disputed elections, to help prevent voter fraud and other types of chicanery, and to improve confidence among voters that their choices are being accurately recorded.
At recent meetings of the local election board, residents expressed a strong preference for “hand-marked ballots” over the touchscreen option.
At Thursday evening’s meeting, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne told the commissioners they had few options open to them except buying a new system that complies with the new state law.
“My analysis of the situation is, in practical terms, you really don’t have a choice,” he said.
As a united board, the commissioners had reached out earlier this year to the North Carolina General Assembly asking for a reprieve that would allow Guilford to keep using the current touchscreen system through the 2020 election cycle.
State Rep. Jon Hardister said the House of Representatives agreed to the full delay, but the state Senate did not concur.
Instead, the two compromised by agreeing to let Guilford keep using its current touchscreen system only through next year’s primary elections, which county officials said was too short an extension to be helpful.
Tomato and potato soup were on the menu Thursday at the 28th annual Feast of Caring, which raises money for Greensboro Urban Ministry.
The annual event at First Baptist Church in Greensboro raises awareness the week before Thanksgiving about the issues of hunger and homelessness in our community.
“You sort of feel a sense of fellowship with others who care about the hungry,” said Anne Hardin, who was among the diners at Thursday’s lunch program.
The second part of the feast — dinner — was scheduled for Thursday night.
For a minimum donation of $25, diners got a meal of soup and bread, along with their choice of a bowl crafted by a North Carolina potter or five Honor Cards created by Greensboro artist Bill Mangum.
Find more photos at greensboro.com.
GREENSBORO — Not so long ago, Greensboro and High Point were bitter rivals for corporate attention.
On Thursday, it was handshakes all around, however, as the two cities held a rare joint meeting to approve more than $600,000 to lure the headquarters of The Fresh Market to downtown Greensboro.
The Greensboro-based specialty grocery company said it has received offers from other cities to move its 248-employee headquarters and it asked for about $300,000 each from Greensboro and High Point.
The Greensboro and High Point City Councils approved the company’s request for the incentives during the meeting at GTCC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing on West Gate City Boulevard.
The Fresh Market has promised to retain all its existing corporate jobs and add 53 new jobs if it stays in Greensboro. The company is currently spread over two locations in the city.
The Fresh Market also will receive $106,000 in incentives from Guilford County taxpayers.
The county Board of Commissioners voted 8-1 Thursday evening to provide the money as an additional economic development grant. Commissioner Jeff Phillips was the lone no vote. He said he was an avid Fresh Market customer and really likes shopping there but is philosophically skeptical of incentives.
Guilford County’s grant was lower because the county wanted to offer incentives for the expansion only, not for the retention of existing jobs, Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview.
Christensen said with the local incentives in hand, he hopes the company will make its decision soon.
Former Greensboro Mayor Jim Melvin upstaged all the gathered business and elected officials in the crowded GTCC conference room as the lone speaker during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Melvin said he remembers the day in 1982 when Fresh Market founder Ray Berry first approached him looking for a Greensboro location to start his new grocery concept. Melvin said he helped Berry find a vacant Bi-Rite store on Battleground Avenue to start the chain.
“We’re proud to have you here, we want you to stay here,” Melvin told executives from the company, who were also at the meeting. “Every job is important,” Melvin said. “But corporate headquarters are extremely important.”
Though founded by the Berry family, the Fresh Market Inc. is now owned by Apollo Global Management.
The corporation’s website says the company operates 159 stores in 22 states. It specializes in fresh produce, meats and seafoods with a high level of customer service.
In addition to the jobs, the company says it will invest up to $2 million in equipment and upfit of an existing building in downtown Greensboro.
Fresh Market and local leaders were tight-lipped about the potential downtown location.
But they all said such cooperation would have been inconceivable five years ago, before the cities and Guilford County joined together in 2015 to form the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance, which shares resources to recruit business to the county.
Larry Appel, The Fresh Market’s CEO, told the gathered councils that the company has had several offers but that downtown Greensboro is a top-priority possibility for the company.
“We appreciate the support you’ve shown for this project throughout our search process,” Appel said.
High Point and Greensboro will each grant $301,000 to the company over five years to retain and create the new jobs, which will pay an average annual wage of $86,000.
The Greensboro City Council voted 8-0 in favor of its motion, with Mayor Pro-Tem Yvonne Johnson absent from the meeting. The High Point City Council approved the incentives in a 5-1 vote.
High Point Mayor Jay Wagner requested before the vote that the company contribute to the Greater High Point Food Alliance, spend its corporate dollars in High Point hotels, and have some kind of “branded presence” in the city, perhaps with a small operation in the new restaurant development planned for the city’s minor league baseball stadium.