NC: Change in election laws discussed

By Jim Bradley for wsoctv.com

Posted: 6:07 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014


Elections officials will have to wait to find out if changes to North Carolina’s elections laws passed last year will be put on hold for November’s election.

A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against the changes Thursday.

They’re being asked to issue an injunction temporarily stopping changes from taking effect before a trial on the issue scheduled for next summer.

In 2013, state legislators passed a law cutting early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminating same-day registration and the ability of voters to cast ballots if they go to the wrong precinct.

A group of critics is suing the state to repeal that law and are asking the Appeals Court to put the changes on hold for the November election. “The right to vote is at stake,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

She and others are suing the state argued in court that the changes to early voting and same-day registration will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

“African Americans are 50 percent more likely to use early voting or same-day registration,” said Chris Brook with the North Carolina ACLU. “So not only is it going to harm all North Carolinians, but it’s going to harm those most marginalized persons of our state that might live in poverty. When transportation is an issue you need same-day registration, you need out-of-precinct voting.”

Attorneys defending the law said its changes apply equally to all voters and don’t impose any hardship on minorities.

Sen. Bob Rucho, who helped pass the bill in the N.C. General Assembly, told reporters outside the courthouse, “No harm will occur (to voters) and this election should move forward.”

The judges on the appeals court will decide if voters face ‘irreparable harm’ from the state’s election laws.  If they rule against the state then election rules would revert to the law in effect prior to 2013. That would extend early voting and reintroduce same-day registration and out of precinct voting. Attorneys for the state said that would be a burden for election officials and they would appeal immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A decision from the Appeals Court is expected within a week.

This article originally appeared at wsoctv.com.

legal team

Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments on North Carolina’s Restrictive Voting Law

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law and whether key provisions can go into effect before the midterm election. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting.

The groups sought to have the provisions halted prior to next summer’s trial, but last month a judge ruled the law could go into effect, prompting the appeal. The three-judge appeals panel consisted of Henry F. Floyd, Diana Gribbon Motz, and James A. Wynn Jr.

“With minimal effort, the state could act to prevent the disenfranchisement of thousands of North Carolinians, and we’ve asked the appellate court to do exactly what the Sixth Circuit in Ohio just did in stopping these burdensome election law changes,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“Tampering with the right to vote should not be taken lightly,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The restrictions imposed by this law stand to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters. If this law is found unconstitutional following next year’s trial, voters who were blocked from participating in the midterm election will never get that chance back.”

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.

In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.


The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
Pictured: ACLU and SCSJ legal team and clients outside the federal courthouse in Charlotte following arguments.

NC’s voting battle is headed for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday, September 25, on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and the American Civil Liberties union (ACLU) are challenging provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting.

SCSJ and the ACLU argued the law should be placed on hold until trial next summer —and in time for the midterm elections in November —but a federal district court judge ruled the law could go forward immediately; the ACLU and SCSJ appealed.

“Implementing these provisions prior to the full trial scheduled for summer 2015 would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney Allison Riggs.

We are asking the court to protect the integrity of our elections and safeguard the vote for thousands of North Carolinians by not allowing these harmful provisions to go into effect,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Allison Riggs will present oral arguments in the hearing, along with Penda Hair, Co-Director of the Advancement Project. SCSJ represents the League of Women Voters, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, and other nonpartisan groups and individuals in the case. The Advancement Project represents the North Carolina NAACP, churches, and individuals.

The hearing will take place at the U.S. Courthouse located at 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, NC on September 25, 2014, at 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.

In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.

The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. More information is here: https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/league-women-voters-north-carolina-et-al-v-north-carolina

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A Ferguson Near You: police brutality and racism

In the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, Duke Law’s Black Law Student Association brought together a panel of experts to discuss the issue of police brutality and race. Because violence against unarmed young men of color is not unique to Ferguson – it happens every day throughout the U.S. SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson spoke at the event, connecting the root causes of events such as those in Ferguson with the institutional racism endemic to police departments throughout the nation. (Daryl’s speech begins at 29:25, but the entire video is well worth watching).


What police actions lead to violence such as what we saw in Ferguson?

  1. Highly racialized stops by police, leading to distrust between police and communities of color
  2. Highly racialized outcomes associated with the “War On Drugs,” despite equal usage rates by people of all races
  3. Militarization of police departments, and the overuse of militarized police practices in communities of color

What can we do?

Here in Durham, Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement (FADE), a coalition of local grassroots organizing, clergy members, and civil rights groups, has five


  1. Mandatory written consent for police searching people and their property[i]
  2. Misdemeanor marijuana possession should be a lowest law enforcement priority (LLEP)[ii]
  3. Mandatory racial equity training for police[iii]
  4. Reform civilian review board to hold police accountable
  5. Mandatory quarterly data reports on the racial breakdown of police stops, searches, and arrests


[i] Adopted by the Durham city Council on September 17, 2014

[ii] Under consideration by the Durham City Council (as of September 22, 2014)

[iii] While the Durham City Council has endorsed some training, the FADE coalition encourages more in-depth racial profiling training.

About this event

Sparked by the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, there is a renewed public discussion on troubled interactions between minorities and police. This panel, comprised of experts from various disciplines, offers observations and suggestions. Presented on September 15, 2014, at Duke Law School, panelists included Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University; Dr. Karla Holloway, Professor of English, Law, and Women’s Studies; Daryl Atkinson, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), focusing on criminal justice reform; Melvin Tucker, criminal justice and litigation consultant for law enforcement cases. Duke Law Professor Trina Jones moderates the panel. Sponsored by the Black Law Students Association and the Center on Law, Race, and Politics.

FADE coalition

Success In Campaign Against Durham PD Racial Profiling

We are glad to report that the campaign against racial profiling in Durham has begun to result in important and concrete changes to departmental policies. It was one year ago this week that SCSJ joined its partners in the FADE coalition in marching from the Durham Police Department to the steps of City Hall. On the afternoon of September 16, 2013, organizers took turns reading a list of community grievances with the Durham PD. Chief among them were allegations of racial profiling and a pattern and practice of illegal searches and excessive force against minority communities. The demonstration was organized in the wake of the recent police shooting of Honduran immigrant Jose Adan Ocampo and the arrest of Carlos Riley, Jr., and happened just one day before 26-year old Derek Walker was shot to death by police at CCB plaza, during an incident captured by area news cameras.

A few weeks later, on October 17, 2013, the FADE coalition issued a formal letter to the city, outlining a list of specific policy recommendations designed to change the culture of Durham policing, end the use of racial profiling practices, and promote institutional accountability. The recommendations were developed through a series of community meetings and listening sessions in the most directly impacted neighborhoods, as well as by conducting a nationwide survey of best practices for reducing incidents of racialized policing. The package of reforms, which came to be known as the “FADE recommendations,” and which ultimately came to enjoy widespread support from a diverse-array of Durham organizations and congregations, included the following policy proposals:

  • Mandate the use of written consent-to-search forms for all searches in which officers lack probable cause or reason to believe a person is armed and dangerous;
  • Designate marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, given the highly discriminatory way in which the current law is enforced;
  • Require periodic audits of individual officer stop, search and arrest data to monitor for and detect officers who are engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement practices;
  • Mandate that all Durham police officers participate in formal racial equity training;
  • Reform the ineffective Durham Civilian Police Review Board, which, in its ten years of existence has yet to rule in favor of a civilian.
  • A year later, we are pleased to report that most of these recommendations have either been formally implemented by the City Manager or are well on their way to being implemented.

    Much work remains to be done with regard to the Civilian Review Board, but there have been some tangible improvements to even that institution—the most notable of which gives the City Council, and thus the public, a say in Board appointments, a responsibility which had previously rested exclusively with the City Manager.

    The story of how this came to be—and of all the amazing community members, organizations, and congregations who had a hand in making it happen—will be the subject of a future blog post. For present purposes, it’s enough to say that this was a true community-based effort from day one and these reforms never would have happened but for the abiding commitment of a great many people, who came together for the common purpose of demanding a police department that is fair in its treatment of the community it serves and committed to principles of nondiscriminatory policing.

    So where exactly do we stand?

    As of October 1st, Durham will join Austin, TX, and Fayetteville, NC, as one of the first cities in the country to mandate that police obtain the informed, written consent of motorists before undertaking non-probable cause based searches.

    This is a significant and hard fought change, and one that we expect to bear immediate results in reducing the incidence of invasive vehicle searches, 82% of which involved black motorists in 2013. Before searching a vehicle without probable cause, police will now have to inform motorists of their right to refuse by way of a form that the driver must sign before the search can proceed. Following the adoption of written consent in Fayetteville in 2012, traffic stops dropped by 50% and searches by 60%, according to a review of records conducted by the Fayetteville Observer.

    On the issue of marijuana enforcement, and in response to community demands, Mayor Bill Bell has announced a convening of the city’s Chief District Court Judge, District Attorney, Sheriff, Police Chief, and Manager to explore the use of “diversion and treatment programs” in order to “reduce the criminal and financial impact” of marijuana arrests.

    Multiple City Council members publicly announced their support for outright “decriminalization” of the drug and their belief that the city should officially “deprioritize” its enforcement if decriminalization is deemed impractical by city lawyers, given the existence of North Carolina General Statutes that continue to criminalize possession. This particular initiative will take time to implement, given all the different players involved, but the city’s commitment towards ending the racially discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws is nonetheless a very encouraging first step in the right direction.

    The City Manager also announced his support of the 3rd FADE recommendation of using officer stop and search data for management purposes.

    Starting January 31, 2015, Durham PD General Order 1050 will be amended to include the regular analysis of officer “stop/search data as a referral activity to the Professional Excellence Program” and for purposes of “annual performance reviews.” This policy change, like written consent, should produce immediate results once it goes into effect next year, as officers will, for the first time, know that their stop and search data is being routinely scrutinized for racialized policing patterns and compared to peer officers, assigned to similar beats, for identification of any anomalous stop or search activity.

    As for racial equity training, the city has agreed to require that all current and future officers participate in formal racial equity training, currently scheduled to be conducted under the auspices of the Fair and Impartial Policing Program. We have concerns about the selection of this particular training program, given its predominant focus on unconscious, or implicit, bias. The program does not appear to include a holistic assessment of department orders, directives and protocols that, though perhaps well-intentioned, may be combining to produce the sort of highly racialized outcomes that prompted the community to bring its concerns to the city in the first place. We will continue to press the city to participate in additional race equity work and we have already received a commitment from at least one City Councilman to investigate the possibility of bringing in the Center for Policing Equity, based in Los Angeles, to conduct a department-wide assessment.

    Click here to read the City Manager’s latest report.

    Post by SCSJ’s Ian Mance, Attorney & Soros Justice Fellow


    The Drug War and the Mass Incarceration It Caused: Where We Are and Where We Still Must Go

    Posted by Renaldo Pearson at Huffington Post Updated:
    The Drug War and the Mass Incarceration It Caused: Where We Are and Where We Still Must Go (Part 5 of 5)
    Where We Still Must Go (see Parts 1 – 4 here)

    These developments not only reflect a shifting public opinion on the truth about our nation’s racially biased drug war, but, as Rosenberg Foundation President Tim Silard recently said, they also reflect the fact that “Decades after the start of the so-called ‘tough on crime’ era, the U.S. slowly seems to be inching away from the failed policies that have made it the world’s largest incarcerator (the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population and about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners).” Even so, we must remain cautiously optimistic. Indeed, The New Jim Crow Author Michelle Alexander reminds us, near the end of her book, that:

    If we hope to end this system of control, we cannot be satisfied with a handful of reforms. All of the financial incentives granted to law enforcement to arrest poor black and brown people for drug offenses must be revoked. Federal grant money for drug enforcement must end; drug forfeiture laws must be stripped from the books; racial profiling must be eradicated; the concentration of drug busts in poor communities of color must cease; and the transfer of military equipment and aid to local law enforcement agencies waging the drug war must come to a screeching halt. And that’s just for starters.

    “Equally important, there must be a change within the culture of law enforcement. Black and brown people in ghetto communities must no longer be viewed as the designated enemy, and ghetto communities must no longer be treated like occupied zones. Law enforcement must adopt a compassionate, humane approach to the problems of the urban poor — an approach that goes beyond the rhetoric of ‘community policing’ to a method of engagement that promotes trust, healing, and genuine partnership. Data collection for police and prosecutors should be mandated nationwide to ensure that selective enforcement is no longer taking place. Racial impact statements that assess the racial and ethnic impact of criminal justice legislation must be adopted. Public defender offices should be funded at the same level as prosecutor’s offices to eliminate the unfair advantage afforded the incarceration machine. The list goes on: Mandatory drug sentencing laws must be rescinded. Marijuana ought to be legalized (and perhaps other drugs as well). Meaningful re-entry programs must be adopted — programs that provide a pathway not just to dead-end, minimum-wage jobs, but also training and education so those labeled criminals can realistically reach for high-paying jobs and viable, rewarding career paths. Prison workers should be retrained for jobs and careers that do not involve caging human beings. Drug treatment on demand must be provided for all Americans, a far better investment of taxpayer money than prison cells for drug offenders. Barriers to re-entry, specifically the myriad laws that operate to discriminate against drug offenders for the rest of their lives in every aspect of their social, economic, and political life, must be eliminated.

    This is not to say that movement building and reform work is mutually exclusive. In fact, as Alexander puts it, “reform work is the work of movement building, provided that it is done consciously as movement-building work.” That said, the foregoing reforms are significant, and would not be possible without the multi-faceted, sacrificing, tireless, and creative pressure and advocacy that many of us continue to provide. As the late Robert F. Kennedy reminds us, “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and the total — all of these acts — will be written in the history of this generation.”

    So, as we look toward next month’s National Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration (see No. 20 in Part 4), we must (1) support or start local efforts to decriminalize marijuana (by working with the Drug Policy Alliance, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Marijuana Policy Project, and/or National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws); (2) support or start local efforts to “ban the box” (see No. 19 in Part 4); and (3) support or start local efforts to aid prisoner (community) reentry (i.e. the release and reintegration of the disproportionately black and brown casualties of the drug war; this is the work that Michelle Alexander has aptly called the “underground railroad” work of the anti-mass incarceration movement) like the first-rate work that former drug war convict turned attorney, Daryl Atkinson is doing with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the work the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance does, and that of the New Southern Strategy Coalition.

    But while we do this local work, we can and must also (1) contact and lobby our congressmen (who returned to work last week) to support the proposed legislation listed above (the Smarter Sentencing Act, the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, and the REDEEM Act), and (2) demand that they go even further (in terms of the collateral consequences faced by ex-offenders, the decriminalization of marijuana, Alexander’s aforementioned prescriptions, etc.), (3) rewarding and punishing them accordingly as we head to the polls this November.

    As we face the rugged terrain ahead, our marching orders must be the sobering words that speak presciently from the grave of the late Coretta Scott King: “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”


    Durham adopts written-consent policy for searches

    Starting Oct. 1, all Durham Police Department officers will obtain a person’s written permission before undertaking a so-called “consent search” of a vehicle or building.

    The decision squares with the wishes of the City Council, but was confirmed this week by City Manager Tom Bonfield, who has the actual executive power to order the change.

    Without the use of written consent, “it’s pretty obvious we can’t get by this trust issue” regarding the Police Department’s that’s emerged over the past year or so, Bonfield said Tuesday.

    The change, and the Oct. 1 start date, was included in a long list of “action items” Bonfield included in an updated report to the council on the staff response to advice from the city’s Human Relation Commission and Civilian Police Review Board.

    It said the department will begin “written documentation of all consent searches,” not just those of buildings.

    City officials and their advisory boards have mulled the consent-search issue at the urging of an assortment of interest groups led by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

    The groups pointed out that statistics show Durham police search the vehicles of black motorists well out of proportion to their share of the city’s population.

    They urged the use of written consent to ensure that motorists know they have the right to refuse an officer’s request for a look inside a car or truck when the officer doesn’t have probable cause to think there’s been a crime.

    The change won’t affect searches authorized by a warrant, or probable-cause based vehicle searches without warrants, which the U.S. Supreme Court allows.

    Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith and other Police Department commanders have said officers for tactical reasons will sometimes ask a motorist for permission to conduct a search, even when they have probable cause to search without the target’s consent.

    The Human Relations Commission supported the call for the use of written consent. Bonfield agreed on the need for “documentation” of permission, but other than for buildings, he initially thought it would be sufficient to capture it in an audio or video recording.

    But Southern Coalition activists countered that minorities are more likely to feel intimidated by police, and thus need the additional warnings and protection of a written consent form.

    City Council members agreed.

    “If I have to sign something, then I am more cognizant of what my rights really are,” Councilman Schewel said earlier this month. “I actually get to decide whether or not I want to exercise that right.”

    Bonfield said that while he still thinks “documentation in some form” is enough, the community-trust issue overrides that.

    “People believe written [consent] is going to provide more responsiveness to restoring trust,” he said. “And that’s fine.”

    He added that the Oct. 1, two-weeks-away start should give commanders time enough to spread the word to front-line officers.

    Police Chief Jose Lopez “felt confident they could meet that deadline,” Bonfield said. “That was his suggested deadline; that wasn’t mine.”

    Council members are scheduled to discuss police issues again on Thursday, but they don’t need to do anything more for the change in consent-search policy to take effect. “We’re moving forward with that,” the manager said.

    This piece originally appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun Sep. 16, 2014 @ 06:14 PM


    How The Fight Against Voting Rights Restrictions Could Decide This Year’s Marquee Senate Race

    DURHAM, N.C. — President Barack Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes in 2008. Now, as Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) go head to head in a race that will determine which party controls the Senate, the state’s voter turnout is in question: Will voting rights restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature dampen Democratic turnout in a year when the president isn’t on the ballot? Or will the restrictions motivate voters instead?

    After Republicans gained control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature in 2012, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill last year which disallowed votes cast out-of-precinct, eliminated same-day registration, reduced the early voting period from 17 to 10 days and got rid of pre-registration for high school students. The legislation also mandated that voters have a government-issued piece of identification to vote in 2016, though not in 2014.

    Unless a federal appeals court provides an injunction on Sept. 27, the legislative package will go into effect for November’s elections. Critics of the law say it was aimed at disenfranchising students, seniors and minorities. The package of restrictions was one of the most salient issues during the Moral Monday protests that were provoked by the legislature’s immediate rightward shift.

    “This is very much a race about voter motivation,” Ferrel Guillory, founder of the University of North Carolina’s Program on Public Life, told The Huffington Post. He suggested that if voters are angry enough about what Tillis did as a leader in the state legislature on issues like voting rights, Hagan could defy the odds in a tough year for Democratic incumbents and squeak by.

    * * * * *
    Gunther Peck, an associate professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, was arrested at a Moral Monday meeting in Raleigh last summer while protesting the legislative efforts of the state’s general assembly. He and his wife, Faulkner Fox, also a professor at the university, are appealing an initial ruling that found them guilty of second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse on command and violating legislative building rules when they sang inside the legislative building’s rotunda.

    Peck, who serves as the faculty adviser for Duke Democrats, said the power of the Moral Monday movement is its ability to energize voters in response to the legislature’s policies.

    “It’s not relying on one candidate, it doesn’t have an election cycle to grow or fall to; it’s continuing to galvanize a coalition of people on voting rights, on health care and other issues,” he said.

    Peck thought Hagan may indirectly benefit from the Moral Monday movement’s activities, saying they have “re-energized parts of the Democratic base” and “continued to spread across the state.”

    “Politically, many of these folks aren’t necessarily big Kay Hagan supporters, but it doesn’t matter,” he added. “They’re going to be turning out the vote — or trying to.”

    Though the North Carolina NAACP, which led the Moral Monday movement along with a coalition of other groups, has transitioned to focusing on voter education and registration ahead of the general election, Peck wasn’t sure its efforts could be converted to political ends, even with the charismatic Rev. William Barber heading up the organization.

    “They have wonderful moral leadership under Barber, but they’ve had some difficulty translating that into an electoral strategy,” Peck said. “The question is about motivation — which side is more motivated — and that remains to be seen. The NAACP has helped to motivate people, but they haven’t necessarily organized in a statewide fashion.”

    * * * * *
    At Democracy N.C., a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing voter participation, bumper stickers in the parking lot read “VOTE: It’s not illegal yet!” Organizers broached the possibility that the new restrictions won’t be as harmful as voting rights activists fear in an interview with HuffPost.

    “Some are saying that the boot down on people has been so harsh that there may be a backlash,” Bob Hall, the group’s executive director, said last week. “The turnout is not going to be as repressed as it might have been if there hadn’t been the Moral Monday movement organizing, all the groups lifting this up, giving people a sense that you don’t need to give up, there is still hope, there are things you can do.”

    Isela Gutiérrez-Gunter, a research associate with the group, explained that it is focused on educating voters about when and where they can vote, and on encouraging them to obtain identification before 2016.

    “How do you encourage people to vote without scaring them?” Gutiérrez-Gunter said. “We’re trying to let folks know about the changes to the law in a way that is helpful and practical as opposed to intimidating. It’s a tough line to strike because there’s a lot of anxiety about the voter ID provision going into effect.”

    Conservatives argue that the state’s voting laws are “still among the most liberal in the country,” comparing it to the 34 states that also require a government-issued identification to vote, the 31 states that require voters to cast provisional ballots in the precinct where they live and the 39 states that don’t allow same-day registration on election day.

    Gutiérrez-Gunter said it is important to remember “what tremendous access voters in North Carolina had” before the restrictions took effect.

    Susan Myrick, an elections analyst with the Republican-affiliated Civitas Institute, told HuffPost that the package of restrictions was aimed at cracking down on voter fraud, as those who passed the law claimed at the time.

    “Compare [North Carolina] to New York,” Myrick said. “In New York they don’t have early voting, and if you vote by mail you have to have an excuse. Even after these changes, a lot of these [provisions] are fixing things that needed to be fixed.”

    Myrick accused groups like Democracy N.C. of being disingenuous, saying that it was concerned about the new package of laws not because it would disenfranchise voters, but because the laws made registering them more challenging.

    “They’re turnout organizations, and it does appear to me that they’re thinking about their convenience,” she said. “It would make it much easier for them as organizations to have two and a half weeks to turn out people in person than in a 10-day period.”

    * * * * *
    At an Aug. 8 hearing before a federal judge, the NAACP’s state chapter, the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs argued that African-American voters are heavily represented among those who vote early, use same-day registration and accidentally vote out-of-precinct. For instance, in 2012, 70 percent of black voters voted early, and black voters made up 42 percent of those who registered and voted on the same day.

    George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the voting rights suit, said he believed the Republican caucus in the state legislature passed the package of restrictions last year with the intent of restricting access, rather than combating fraudulent voting.

    “There’s no doubt that Tillis was in leadership in the conference that passed the law, and certainly our argument is that the law was passed in order to restrict voting access,” he told HuffPost.

    “This isn’t a political issue, this is a voting rights issue. Every North Carolina citizen, no matter their background, no matter their race, no matter their ability to pay, should be able to vote for whomever they choose, and that’s not the case right now.”

    Back at Democracy N.C., Hall worried the July 2015 hearing won’t produce the result the plaintiffs want if the court is convinced the state still has relatively progressive voting rights laws.

    Imagine, he said, that one argues it is unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act to get rid of out-of-precinct voting. “The other side will say, ‘Pfft, [North Carolina voters] didn’t have it until 2004, and all these other states don’t even have it. What are you bitching about?'” he said. “And maybe the judge says, ‘Hmm, well you’re right.'” But, he pointed out, African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of registered voters, were 40 percent of those who voted outside of their precinct.

    The North Carolina NAACP, Democracy N.C. and the other groups contesting the new voting rights restrictions hope the federal appeals court hearing their injunction request rules that the new laws were intentionally regressive, as Hall characterized them. And as they wait for the verdict later this month, the groups continue their work. But without same-day registration, and with fewer early voting days, time is running out.


    Posted on Huff Post Politics:

    Op-Ed: Some NC counties discourage school enrollment of immigrant children

    By George Eppsteiner

    September 10, 2014 Raleigh News & Observer

    The past few weeks have been marked by several North Carolina municipalities – including the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, Brunswick County Board of Commissioners and most recently the Surry County Board of Commissioners – passing resolutions discouraging undocumented children, including unaccompanied minors, from attending schools in these counties.

    Unaccompanied minors are typically defined as children without immigration status who enter the United States without a parent or legal guardian. These children, who often are escaping insurmountable poverty and violence in their home countries, are placed temporarily in the custody of a “sponsor” (often a relative) while they await their fates in the immigration courts.

    The intent of these government acts, evidenced by Surry County’s most recent resolution, could not be clearer: Unaccompanied minors are not welcome in these counties. The Surry County Resolution reads that it hopes the U.S. government will “refrain from any unaccompanied minors and adults in Surry County” and that “the influx of school-age minors will have an adverse effect on our local school district.”

    From the perspective of a civil rights attorney, such resolutions are immediately troubling. First, the North Carolina Constitution does not allow local school districts and counties to discourage children, no matter their immigration status, from enrolling.

    In fact, the state constitution compels state institutions to protect this right. Article 1, Section 15 reads, “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.” Second, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, has declared that school districts may not prevent educational access because of a child’s immigration status. In other words, North Carolina public schools cannot deny a student a place in their classrooms because of their immigration status.

    There is a fundamental conflict when elected county officials pass government statements that encourage the exclusion of unaccompanied minors when their school districts are required by law to accept them. School districts in these counties will knowingly or unknowingly violate the federal and state constitutions by considering national origin or immigration status in the school admission process if they follow the guidance of their elected officials.

    At first glance, such resolutions may appear to be concerned with public health and safety. What if immigrant children bring communicable diseases into our school systems? However, a more thorough understanding of unaccompanied minors’ entrance into local communities shatters these assumptions. For example, if an unaccompanied minor is detained at the U.S. border, he or she is processed and housed in a detention center. These minors receive immunizations at these centers or in group homes after processing. In any event, school districts are required to have immunization procedures for all students and can treat unaccompanied minors like any other child to enforce their policies.

    It is not improper that these statements raise questions about our nation’s immigration policy, but they send an incorrect message that unaccompanied minors may be discriminated against in their respective school districts. Local governments should be mindful of the deep and painful history of discrimination in this state that often culminated at the schoolhouse door. The U.S. Supreme Court was forced to assist in the desegregation of North Carolina’s public schools as late as the 1970s. The history of school discrimination in this state is not ancient history.

    These resolutions target the most vulnerable of the voiceless. Unaccompanied minors often have no parents in the United States, little or no English skills and no right to free legal representation at their immigration hearings. Instead of being welcomed into our communities (often briefly while their immigration cases are sorted out), they are being officially “discouraged” from entering the county.

    Such resolutions run contrary to the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Counties should focus on ways to support inclusion in their communities rather than scoring political points against the most vulnerable.

    George Eppsteiner is a civil rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham.

    Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/10/4139734_on-immigrant-children-enrolling.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy


    NC Voting Rights Challenge Goes To The Next Level

    On September 9, 2014 the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Ordered an expedited review of the North Carolina voting rights case brought by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other voting rights groups challenging vote suppression measures passed last year by the Legislature. The Court set oral arguments in the case for September 25th in Charlotte. The groups, represented by SCSJ and the ACLU, want to halt implementation of new voting restrictions until a full trial is held on the merits of the changes. The Plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit after Judge Schroeder denied their request to halt the new voting restrictions until after the full trial next year.

    “After Judge Schroeder’s ruling, for this election cycle, there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted,” said SCSJ staff attorney George Eppsteiner. “The Court of Appeals has stepped in to review whether these changes should  go into effect before a full trial on North Carolina’s new voting laws is held in 2015. We contend that they should not.”

    The previous week in a similar case in Ohio, the trial court granted a preliminary injunction stopping such changes from going into effect for the November 2014 elections in that state.

    The Court of Appeals order may be found here.

    Judge Schroeder’s August 8, 2014 ruling may be found here.

    The Ohio case is Ohio State Conf. of the NAACP v. Husted, No. 2:14-cv-404, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123442 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 4, 2014), available here.