SCSJ’s voting rights work is focused primarily on protecting the rights of communities of color by defending the Voting Rights Act and minimizing elections administration practices that threaten free democratic participation in elections such as photo ID requirements, restrictions on voter registration and early voting and election day voter challenges.
SCSJ created the Census and Redistricting Institute (CCRI) to provide individuals and community organizations with the tools needed to participate in the redistricting process and to advocate effectively for fair representation. Following a groundbreaking national Expert Preparation and Community Education Program in 2010, SCSJ continued to meet the strong demand for community training in preparation for the release of census data and redistricting plans. Forging strong working relationships with a multitude of community organizations in North Carolina and in other states, SCSJ facilitated new collaborations among community organizations, academic experts, and lawyers, thereby strengthening cooperation among Latino, Asian-American, and African-American community groups.
In January 2011 SCSJ convened the Fair Redistricting Collaborative, a joint project of three non-profit organizations (SCSJ, One Voice and Southern Echo) that protects the voting strength of African-American, Latino, Native American, and Asian voters. The initiative utilizes strictly non-partisan, education-based and data driven support to community-based organizations and voting rights activists.
SCSJ facilitated community involvement in redistricting by providing training on the redistricting process, demographic analysis of existing plans and potential alternatives, and legal advice. Creative ways were sought to engage what might otherwise be competing groups in a united effort to empower all affected groups. Efforts were made to ensure that communities understood and were able to avoid “prison gerrymandering,” where non-voting prison populations are counted in a way that unfairly disadvantages the voting strength of Black and Latino communities. Finally, where the redistricting process resulted in unfair maps in certain jurisdictions, SCSJ represented the NAACP and other non-partisan organizations in redistricting litigation to achieve through the courts what could not be obtained through the political process. Compliance with the Voting Rights Act is a key goal.
SCSJ’s election administration work focuses on protecting access to the ballot and monitoring legislative initiatives aimed at requiring photo identification at the polls, restricting voter registration, or otherwise disenfranchising voters. In addition to trainings on advocating for more early voting sites, SCSJ provided legal support to help enforce state laws regarding the voting rights of persons with felony convictions or misdemeanants who are in jail.
SCSJ strives to link claims for minority representation with claims for fuller participation by all citizens. For example, voter ID requirements hinder effective participation by numerous groups, including the elderly and persons with disabilities. By demystifying the political and legal processes around redistricting, and providing models for more inclusive democratic structures, we hope to generate broader policy reforms that improve the democratic process overall.
- Broader citizen understanding of participation in the democratic process.
- Give people of color, who are not afforded fair representation, a voice in the redistricting process.
- Prevent the dilution of cohesive racial minority groups through packing voters of color into only a few districts, or cracking their neighborhoods among several districts.
- Help underrepresented constituencies to achieve favorable public policy outcomes on a range of issues, from education to health care and beyond.
- Ensure transparency, accountability and meaningful public participation in order to promote the legitimacy of the governing bodies subsequently elected.
SCSJ recently convinced a federal court in Washington, DC that the statewide redistricting plans, enacted by the state of Texas, were motivated by a discriminatory purpose and would have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. This decision will also likely provide strong evidence on the continuing need of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — a need that is currently being questioned by a number of challenges to the constitutionality of the Act that could be considered by the United States Supreme Court in its next term.