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Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Defamation lawsuit filed in Greensboro, N.C., by voters wrongfully accused of committing voter fraud
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Four voters in Guilford County, N.C., have filed a defamation lawsuit against the individual who accused them of voting without being eligible to do so. In the 2016 general election, at least 85 people across North Carolina were accused of voting in multiple states or being ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. Not a single one of the accusations was found to be valid.
Recent unsupported claims by President Trump have moved the issue of illegal voting into the national spotlight. At the national level, the rhetoric around this issue has been broad and vague. In contrast, North Carolina voters were called out by name and were publicly accused of committing a crime.
“Today voters are fighting back,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim.”
“This was personal,” said Karen Niehans, a 74-year-old resident of Jamestown, N.C. who was accused of voting in two states. “My democratic right to vote was challenged. It’s as if someone was saying that I was less than others, that my voice shouldn’t count. That’s just plain wrong to do to someone and I am not going to take it. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Karen and her husband Sam Niehans moved to North Carolina in August 2016 to be closer to family. They are eligible to vote and ultimately had their votes counted after the local board of elections found the challenges to both of their votes to be without merit.
Louis Bouvier of Greensboro, N.C. was also accused of voting in two states.  Unlike the Niehans, Bouvier has voted in North Carolina consistently since 1988.
“My son and I share a name. That’s likely why someone accused me of voting in two states,” Bouvier said. “But it’s a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts.”
Gabriel Thabet of Greensboro, N.C., was accused of not being allowed to vote due to a felony conviction from 19 years ago. However, North Carolinians with a felony record have their rights automatically restored after they have served their sentence and completed parole. His vote was ultimately counted.
“I have spent the last 19 years trying to forget the mistakes that I made as a kid,” Gabriel Thabet said. “I wish that I had never been accused of not being allowed to vote. Just as I had to learn from my childhood mistakes, I cannot change the past but I can help shape the future. I am standing up to make sure other people are not intimidated the way I was.”
In 2013, North Carolina passed a monster voter suppression law.  Although the law was struck down by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, state legislators used similar baseless claims to cast doubt over our elections process to build support for passing the measure.  There are concerns that the unsupported challenges to voters in 2016 will be used for the same purpose.
“This case is about protecting the rights of every eligible voter to be able to cast their ballot without being intimidated or having to face baseless accusations,” Allison Riggs added.  “Voters are pushing back against vague and unfounded claims of voter fraud being used to drum up support for voter suppression laws. Today is the day that voters fight back.”
A pdf of the lawsuit can be found at http://bit.ly/VoterDefamation
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Magnet_4.25-01

Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on President Trump’s Immigration Ban Executive Order

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice joins the individuals and organizations across the country and world condemning President Trump’s recent Executive Order, which imposes severe restrictions on entry into the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, and bans refugees fleeing violence in Syria until further notice.   

We believe this kind of discriminatory action hurts all of us. The order is overly broad, antithetical to longstanding American values of religious tolerance and inclusion, and grounded in bigotry and unfounded fears. It fuels the fire of hateful acts that have been committed against people of color and people of all faiths since the election. Since its issuance on Friday, the executive order has caused profound fear and pain in immigrant and refugee communities across the country and world, as well as chaos and indignities in our airports. It is a self-inflicted wound to America’s standing and respect across the world.  

As social justice lawyers, we represent ordinary people of color who have to abide by a patchwork quilt of discriminatory laws that often lead to their mass criminalization and disenfranchisement. We also value our constitutional system of checks and balances and are dismayed by the administration’s blatant disregard for federal court orders. In the United States of America, no one is above the law.  

Immigrants and refugees from all countries and of all religions are valuable parts of the fabric of American society. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice pledges to stand with our refugee and Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the country and the world, today and moving forward. We will continue to demand that America not turn its back on innocent and vulnerable people based on their country of origin or their religious faith.

 

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Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools Prompts Letter to U.S. Department of Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 5, 2017 

N.C. Youth Advocates Urge U.S. Department of Education to Address Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools

Recent viral video just a snapshot of ongoing systemic discrimination

RALEIGH, N.C. – A coalition of youth justice advocates called on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights earlier today, asking the agency to take immediate action to resolve a complaint initially filed against the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in September 2010 –  2,295 days ago

The complaint itself highlights that this week’s excessive use of force against a Rolesville High School student is not an isolated incident. The viral video of a school resource officer slamming a young girl to the ground is troubling, yet not an uncommon use of excessive discipline for students of color. According to the complaint, Wake County students have been arrested and attacked as a result of throwing water balloons as part of a school-wide student prank tradition,handcuffed and treated like common criminals for infractions as minor as cutting in a school lunch line,2 and been TASED and pepper-sprayed for minor incidents that could have been readily resolved without such violent intervention.3

Further, the complaint alleges that the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) was – and continues to be – engaging in racially discriminatory school discipline practices. Today’s letter urges the federal agency to intervene to end the ongoing discrimination against Black students in Wake County public schools.

“All children deserve to be treated fairly, especially in our schools,” said Peggy Nicholson, Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “However, racial discrimination clearly exists in how students are disciplined in Wake County public schools. We know it and the U.S. Department of Education knows it. It’s time for the federal government to step in and put a stop to the unlawful discrimination that’s happening here.”

Since the filing of the initial complaint in 2010, the coalition has provided seven updates to the Office for Civil Rights documenting the persistent nature of the discriminatory practices.  

“Discriminatory discipline practices have remained virtually unchanged over the past six years. That clearly demonstrates that the problem is systemic,” said Jennifer Story, Supervising Attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services at Legal Aid of North Carolina. “Not only are we asking for action from the U.S. Department of Education, we are asking for ongoing monitoring to ensure compliance. Otherwise, we run the risk of continuing to allow discrimination and depriving kids of the fairness and opportunities they deserve.” 

Even though Black students consistently represented approximately 25% of the student body during the 2010-11 to 2014-15 school years, data presented in today’s letter to the Office for Civil Rights points out that Black students:

  • Received upwards of 63% of all out-of-school suspensions given to students in the district during that same time period;
  • Received between 64 and 76% of school-based referrals to juvenile delinquency court;
  • Accounted for:  
    • 72% of the 387 high school students referred to adult criminal court;
    • 75% of the 4 middle school students referred to adult criminal court; and,
    • 77% of the 13 alternative school students referred to adult criminal court.

“The system is failing our kids,” said Letha Muhammad, parent and leader of Education Justice Alliance in Wake. “We need help. Our children know that discrimination is wrong and their school system is treating them differently. We need the Wake County Public School System to be held accountable for their discriminatory practices. Right now, students of color are being treated as second-class citizens and that’s not something they deserve or something that we should tolerate.”

Although the school system has made some efforts to address the disparities, the data clearly reveals an obvious pattern of discrimination. In calling for the Office for Civil Rights to address the longstanding complaint, coalition partners are hoping that the agency’s action and monitoring will ensure that Black students are not subject to continued, unlawful discrimination. 

The coalition’s letter the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is attached and can also be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/OCRLetter

Citations:

1Hui, T. K. (2013, May 30). Seven Enloe students arrested in balloon-tossing prank. Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/30/2928310/enloe-students-say-water-balloon.html; Saunders, B. (2013, August 20). Saunders: In Enloe water-balloon case, does punishment fit the crime? Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/20/2905804/saunders-in-enloe-water-balloon.html

See Knafo, S. (2014, January 24). Teen Handcuffed for Cutting In Line in School Cafeteria: Complaint. Retrieved from http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4654351.

See Klein, R. (2016, August 11). Set to Stun: Children are being Tasered by school-based police officers. No one knows how often it’s happening or what impact it’s having on students. Retrieved from http://data.huffingtonpost.com/2016/school-police/tasers.

 

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Magnet_4.25-01

Federal Court Denies State Legislature’s Request to Postpone Drawing Legislative Districts in 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 4, 2017

Federal Court Denies State Legislature’s Request to Postpone Drawing Legislative Districts in 2017

DURHAM – In a unanimous ruling today, a federal court denied the General Assembly’s request to postpone the order requiring new legislative districts to be drawn and elections to be held in 2017. The same court that denied the stay issued the order in November 2016 that calls for new maps and elections. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented plaintiffs in the case that challenged the racially gerrymandered state legislative districts.

Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the motion was denied:

“We are pleased that the court continues to recognize the harm that will be done to people of North Carolina by electing representatives in districts that are unconstitutional. It’s time for the legislature to recognize that the people of our state deserve to have fair representation and the opportunity to vote in districts that were not racially gerrymandered.”

A copy of the order can be found here: http://bit.ly/CovingtonStay

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shame

NC Legislative Rewrite Undermines Democratic Principles

Legislative Rewrite of Judicial Elections and Election Board Composition Undermines Democratic Principles
SB 4 would usurp executive powers for partisan purposes

RALEIGH – State Sens. Rucho, Rabon and Tucker introduced SB 4 just hours after the legislature convened its fourth special session of the year. Among its many provisions, SB 4 appears to:

  • Overhaul the State Board of Elections and change the process for appointing members, creating the potential for deadlock on the eight-member board that could lead to limitations on early voting and other voting access issues, and increasing the General Assembly’s control over members of that independent state agency;
  • Alter the structure of county boards of elections from three to four members, further creating the potential for deadlock on election issues at the county level as well;
  • Remove the right to directly appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court unless the case is first heard en banc (by all 15 members) by the Court of Appeals, ensuring that all rulings are made by a majority of Republican judges before they ever get to the Supreme Court, delaying constitutional challenges to statutes enacted by the General Assembly and making it more expensive to win court cases challenging those statutes; and,
  • Make N.C. Supreme Court elections partisan, which will inject partisanship into elections for a nonpartisan judicial body charged with impartially interpreting and applying the law.

After the bill was introduced, Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement:

“Instead of a court-packing bill, it appears we got a court-denial bill. This proposal seems to delay Supreme Court review of cases, including those involving citizens’ constitutional rights. Unconstitutional laws could be in effect for years before the State Supreme Court would finally get the case and rule. It also means that every case will be ruled on first by a majority of Republican judges. This further encourages more partisanship instead of fostering an impartial judiciary.”

“Changing the State Board of Elections is also a partisan power grab that is not justified by any real need. The special legislative session was convened to address the needs of communities that were impacted by flooding and wildfires. Using this session for partisan trickery is not only a waste of taxpayer money, it also uses disaster victims as political pawns.”

The full text of SB 4 can be found at: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015E4&BillID=s4&submitButton=Go

Federal Court Orders NC Legislature to Draw New State Legislative Districts by March 15, Hold Special Elections in November 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 29, 2016

Federal Court Orders NC Legislature to Draw New State Legislative Districts by March 15, Hold Special Elections in November 2017

DURHAM –  In a unanimous ruling today, a three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ordered the General Assembly to redraw 28 racially gerrymandered state house and senate districts by March 15, 2017, and to hold a special primary and general election in the fall of 2017.  The terms of all legislators elected in November 2016 and serving in any district modified by the General Assembly are shortened to one year.  If the legislature fails to draw new districts, the court may do so.

“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in the state legislature, and that is impossible to achieve with racially gerrymandered districts. A special election in the affected districts in 2017 is the best way to protect the rights of all North Carolinians,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which, along with the Poyner Spruill and Tin Fulton law firms, represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

According to the order, North Carolina shall hold a primary election in late August or early September and a general election in early November 2017. The specific dates are to be set by the legislature, or by the Court if the legislature fails to act.  Legislators elected in the new districts in 2017 shall take office on January 2, 2018 and serve a one year term.

In the order, the three-judge panel noted, “While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander” (page 2-3).

Lead plaintiff Sandra Covington, a retired elementary teacher from Fayetteville, explained that as a result of the racially gerrymandered districts she “was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race.”  Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts.  

The Court ordered the legislature to redraw state House Districts 5, 7, 12, 21, 24, 29, 31, 32, 33, 38, 42, 43, 48, 57, 58, 60, 99, 102, and 107; and state Senate Districts 4, 5, 14, 20, 21, 28, 32, 38, and 40.

A copy of the order is available here: http://bit.ly/CovingtonNC

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(C) CommonDreams.org

Statement on State Board of Elections Order

Southern Coalition Statement on State Board of Elections Order

DURHAM – The North Carolina State Board of Elections issued an order yesterday giving guidance to county election boards to ensure uniform application of voting laws and rules.  In the order, the State Board of Elections directed county boards to dismiss election protests that merely dispute the eligibility of a voter (see item number 6 in the order).  To date, dozens of challenges have been filed across the state contesting voter eligibility, with most being dismissed for a lack of evidence or being cases of mistaken identity.

In addition to the individual challenges, there was a large-scale challenge filed last week by Francis De Luca of Civitas to throw out the ballots of same-day registrants, potentially thousands of them. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represents a number of voter engagement advocates and affected voters in the state who quickly moved to intervene and defend against that challenge.  Many of the clients represented by SCSJ are the same people who won the ruling this summer in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold same-day registration in the state.

Yesterday’s order from the State Board of Elections also prohibits county election boards from retrieving and throwing out a ballot cast by an unqualified voter unless the challenge was filed in a timely manner or there is evidence that “voters participated in numbers sufficient to change the outcome of the election” (see item number 7 in the order).

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, represented SCSJ at the State Board of Elections’ public meeting regarding this matter.  After the order was released, Riggs issued the following statement:

“Most of the election challenges we have seen in North Carolina are baseless and indiscriminate efforts to undermine public confidence in the election. We applaud the State Board of Elections for offering guidance to local election officials to make sure that eligible voters are not disenfranchised. It’s time to move forward with finalizing the state’s election results.  North Carolinians deserve to have closure in this election and know that their vote cannot be discounted by partisan efforts to sabotage an election.”

VotingChanges

Election Information for Southern States

Election Day has arrived!  Here are the times polls are open in states across the South and links to where you can find your polling place:

Ferguson

Statement on Police Violence

Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Police Violence

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is appalled and outraged by the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Unfortunately, the killing of Mr. Scott is not an isolated incident. The killing of African-Americans by police has been, and continues to be, all too common. Such killings continuously demonstrate that racism and systemic inequity are deeply rooted in our society. So far in 2016, there have been 217 documented killings of African-Americans by police officers in the United States[1], which is grossly disproportionate to police killings of any other race[2].

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone equal protection under the law. It is not a suggestion. It is a right – one that is currently denied to many individuals and communities of color. When black and brown people are killed by police in circumstances where white people are not, it clearly demonstrates discrimination. We must do better. We must find ways to better achieve justice, fairness, and equality. We must hold police officers and departments accountable for acts of violence and discrimination.

We want justice and a society that gives people of color justice. SCSJ continues to stand in solidarity with all communities affected by such killings and remains dedicated to confronting and addressing injustice, inequality, and oppression. We recognize that lasting solutions will come from affected communities themselves, who live with the problems on a daily basis and have the most informed understanding of what works and what does not work.

We pledge to continue gathering and analyzing data that identifies discriminatory police practices and advocating for legal doctrines that protect the rights of people who have been the subject of such practices. We will continue providing legal services to communities that disproportionately encounter and interact with law enforcement. We will continue to support community leaders who strive to confront the systemic problems that have allowed these tragedies to persist. We will continue to demand justice.

 

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[1]http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

[2] – Lowery, Wesley. “Study Finds Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black Men at Disproportionate Rates.” The Washington Post 7 Apr. 2016. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/study-finds-police-fatally-shoot-unarmed-black-men-at-disproportionate-rates/2016/04/06/e494563e-fa74-11e5-80e4-c381214de1a3_story.html