FEDERAL JUDGE RULES BALLOTS MUST HAVE WITNESS SIGNATURES: A federal judge ordered more changes Wednesday to absentee voting rules after hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots have been cast and as early, in-person voting gets underway Thursday. U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen criticized the NC State Board of Elections, saying it had misconstrued or misinterpreted findings he made in August in a way that changed election rules from what had been decided by the state lawmakers who hold authority under the U.S. Constitution to do so. “This court upheld the witness requirement — to claim a cure which eliminates the witness requirement is consistent with this court’s order is a gross mischaracterization of the relief granted,” Osteen said. All five board members agreed on the settlement that did away with the witness requirement in a state lawsuit before it reached the judge. That included the board’s two Republican members who resigned afterward.
COOPER SMACKS FOREST DOWN OVER HIS PANDEMIC DENIALISM: "We don't need a governor that treats us like 5-year-olds," Forest said, saying that businesses and schools should be allowed to set their own precautions and get back to work. "The lockdown mandates and the masks are actually causing more harm than good." Cooper, who was the more aggressive of the two throughout the debate, fired back that nothing can return to normal until the pandemic has passed and that Forest isn't helping the situation with his statements and actions. "You cannot wish the pandemic away. It doesn't work like that," he said. "It's going to take us dealing with this pandemic and slowing the spread to get our economy fully going again, and when you're out there pretending that there is no pandemic, that's going to hurt the number of jobs that we have." Forest has held numerous campaign rallies in recent months where people didn't wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines. Cooper blasted him several times during the debate for that, calling it "reckless," but Forest deflected the criticism by citing a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing most people infected by the virus said they regularly wore masks.
SUPERMAJORITY OF NC CITIZENS DISAGREE WITH DAN FOREST ON PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS: The majority of North Carolina residents back using a go-slow approach to reopening public schools and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Elon University poll. In the poll released Thursday, 77% of respondents said it was a good decision for most North Carolina public schools to offer only online classes instead of in-person classes at the start of the school year. Only 28% of respondents said the timing of the state’s phased reopening of businesses has been too slow. Also, 28% said the state’s coronavirus rules and regulations have been too restrictive. The majority of respondents felt the state’s response was just right or wasn’t restrictive enough. The new findings mirror results from a June Elon poll when 21% said the state’s rules were too restrictive. People who want the state to reopen immediately haven’t grown substantially since the summer, according to Jason Husser, director of the Elon University poll. “Folks who are really unhappy with the speed of reopening of schools and businesses are quite unhappy with it,” Husser said in an interview Tuesday with The News & Observer. “But they are a minority of voters.”
PROSECUTORS AND AG'S VOW NOT TO PROSECUTE ANTI-ABORTION LAWS IF ROE.V. WADE IS OVERTURNED: A coalition of more than 60 state prosecutors and attorneys general from across the country declared Wednesday that they would not enforce laws that criminalize abortion, even if the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision that legalized it nationwide. The declaration comes amid the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative who many believe would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade if elevated to the high court. Barrett has declined to say how she would vote if a challenge to Roe came before the court. The prosecutors’ statement invokes the power of prosecutorial discretion, which some prosecutors have used to reduce or eliminate prosecution of marijuana charges and other misdemeanors to reduce the disproportionate harm they can cause to nonviolent offenders. Among the prosecutors who signed Wednesday’s statement are Danny Carr, the district attorney of Jefferson County, Ala., whose state legislature passed a law imposing minimum prison sentences of 10 years on any doctor who performs an abortion under nearly every circumstance, and Glenn Funk, district attorney general in Nashville, whose state passed a “heartbeat” law imposing restrictions on abortions performed as early as six weeks. Federal courts have temporarily blocked the laws in Alabama and Tennessee, but antiabortion groups are appealing. “It is imperative,” the prosecutors declared in their statement, “that we use our discretion to decline to prosecute personal healthcare choices criminalized under such laws.” Citing the 47 years of legal precedent established by Roe, the prosecutors said that “women have a right to make decisions about their own medical care including, but not limited to, seeking an abortion.”
EUROPE IS STRUGGLING UNDER SECOND WAVE OF CORONAVIRUS: From France to Russia, from Britain to the Czech Republic, European leaders are confronting a surge in coronavirus cases that is rapidly filling hospital beds, driving up death tolls and raising the grim prospect of further lockdowns in countries already traumatized by the pandemic. The continent, which once compared favorably to the United States in its handling of the pandemic, is being engulfed by a second wave of infection. With an average of more than 100,000 new infections per day over the past week, Europe now accounts for about one-third of new cases reported worldwide. In the most vivid sign of the deteriorating situation, President Emmanuel Macron of France on Wednesday imposed a curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the Paris region and eight other metropolitan areas, beginning on Saturday. “The virus is everywhere in France,” he told the French public, as he declared a state of emergency. The resurgence has prompted officials to close bars and clubs in Prague and Liverpool, and to make face masks mandatory in public indoor spaces in Amsterdam. In Russia, which reported its largest daily increase in infections on Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin sought refuge from the torrent of bad news by announcing that his government had approved a second vaccine. In several European countries, lockdowns were lifted abruptly, sowing complacency among people who felt they could return to their normal lives. In the face of intense political pressures, European leaders have been reluctant to impose new, economically damaging lockdowns, often opting for the lightest possible measures. For Germany and a handful of its neighbors, this second wave is particularly demoralizing because they had navigated the first wave relatively well. In late June, revelers in Prague celebrated the end of the outbreak with a dinner party stretching across the Charles Bridge. Spain and Italy, which were hard hit in March and April, threw open their doors to vacationers in July and August.