voter suppression

Voter Suppression: The Same Old Strategy

SCSJ recently represented the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and other plaintiffs in a federal hearing requesting a preliminary injunction to stop North Carolina’s Monster Voter Suppression Law. At this time we are waiting to hear back from the court on whether or not the law will be halted until a full trial can be conducted. In the meantime, voter suppression tactics are being used in North Carolina and beyond – primarily to impede the voting rights of people of color, students, the elderly, and the poor. How did we get here? Read on to find out.

Supreme Court Decision Leads To Voter Suppression

When the US Supreme Court gutted elements of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina’s political leaders, using voter fraud as a smokescreen, were the first out of the gate to rush ALEC-influenced voter suppression laws into effect. They are relying on an old strategy of voter suppression to control the outcome of elections. [1,3,5,8,9]

Voter Suppression Today

Remember the old Jim Crow tactics? — Poll taxes, literacy tests, discrimination based on race and gender, voter intimidation. Today’s tactics are disturbingly familiar [2,4]:

  • Instituting a strict photo ID requirement. Some see this as a type of poll tax since even “free” IDs require documentation that may be cumbersome and costly to obtain for some.
  • Reducing early voting times and eliminating Sunday voting
  • Prohibiting ballots cast out of the “precinct-of-residence”
  • Eliminating same day registration
  • Eliminating a popular program to pre-register 16- and 17-year olds
  • Intimidation by empowering independent “election integrity” groups to monitor polling stations and challenge voter credentials
  • In addition, county BOE’s have set early voting sites to disadvantage city voters compared to their rural counterparts.

These changes are designed to disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters, women, students, single parents, and the poor.

Voter ID Graphic

What others are saying about Voter Suppression in NC:

  • “The GOP’s claims of defending ‘voter integrity’, ‘fairness’ and ‘uniformity’ are complete nonsense” — Jamelle Bouie, Slate [2]
  • “This is the worst voter suppression law we have seen since the days of Jim Crow. It is a full-on assault on the voting rights of minorities” — Rev. William Barber, President, North Carolina NAACP [3]
  • “I can’t believe we are seeing this day again….Dr. King would be having a fit.” — Rosanell Eaton, a 93-year-old African-American co-plaintiff, who recalls enduring a literacy test when she first registered to vote [7]
  • “It was, bar none, the worst legislative process I’ve ever been through.” – Rick Glazier, NC House of Representatives [7]

The fear tactics might be updated but the contemptible strategy is the same old thing.

We must respond by getting out the vote. When they take away our vote, they take away our voice.

[1] http://www.msnbc.com/the-reid-report/watch/nc-voting-law-may-deter-voting-304531011824

[2] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/03/republican_voter_suppression_rationales_why_voter_integrity_is_nonsense.html

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/06/north-carolina-voter-id-jim-crow-challenge

[4] http://www.advancementproject.org/news/entry/north-carolina-naacp-and-others-challenge-states-voter-suppression-law-in-f

[5] http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Democracy,_Voter_Rights,_and_Federal_Power

[6] http://www.southerncoalition.org/in-nc-voter-suppression-hits-women-minorities-hardest/

[7] http://prospect.org/article/courtroom-drama-voting-rights-paid-blood-under-siege-north-carolina

[8] http://www.thenation.com/blog/180608/north-carolina-will-determine-future-voting-rights-act#

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pl_SEOZOIg

Post based on a story from Steadfast NC with additions from SCSJ’s Shoshannah Sayers. Steadfast NC content used with permission.

 

David Price

Rep. David Price to visit SCSJ

David Price to Visit Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ)

 
Following SCSJ staff attorney Daryl Atkinson’s recent trip to the White House to receive a Champions of Change award for his extraordinary work to facilitate employment opportunities for individuals formerly involved in the justice system, Representative David Price will be visiting SCSJ on Monday, July 28th to learn more about our social justice work in the fields of criminal justice reform, voting rights, environmental justice, and human rights. A brief reception with light refreshments will be held from 11:15am-12:00pm. The reception is free and open to the public.
 
 
WHAT:            Open Reception with Congressman Price and the staff of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
 
WHEN:           11:15 a.m. EDT
Monday, July 28.
 
WHO:             David Price, U.S. House of Representatives
                        Daryl V. Atkinson, Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
                        Anita Earls, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
                        SCSJ Staff and Interns
 
WHERE:         SCSJ Offices
Hamilton Centre Office Park
                        1415 NC Hwy 54, Suite 101
                        Durham, NC 27707   

For more information please contact Shoshannah Sayers at (919) 323-3380 x 154 or shannah@scsj.org.

Clean Slate

Clean Slate Work: The Necessity of Second Chances for Justice-Involved People

Aaron Bryant is a summer intern at SCSJ, focusing on community organizing for our Criminal Justice Reform program. Aaron wrote the following reflections of his first experience facilitating a Clean Slate Clinic with SCSJ.

My First Clean Slate Clinic

A few staffers and I walked into the Holton Career Center early Saturday July 12 to begin to set up for the day. There were around 20 or so soon-to-be clients that were waiting outside of the building before the event officially began. The people who came out early signaled that the services we offer are needed in our community. More importantly, what was evident is that participants are not a passive group; the people are ready to take action to change the way they are viewed by their government, their communities and each other.

The Clean Slate Clinic was a multi-pronged approach aimed at helping justice involved people exercise agency. The registration process for the clinic helps SCSJ determine who is eligible for our free legal services. After going through the clean slate registration process, clients went into the auditorium for a speech on the injustices of the criminal justice system.

Clients were shown two documentaries, the first called The House I Live In, detailing the state sponsored criminality and injustices involved in the War on Drugs. The House We Live In dealt with socially constructed views on race. Information was also handed out to clients both inside and outside the auditorium about work that SCSJ has done with Ban the Box initiatives, empirical evidence of racial profiling by the Durham Police Department and steps the city has taken in hiring people with a criminal record since Durham adopted Ban the Box in 2011. SCSJ also provided people with opportunities to share their experiences of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Participants at the clinic were given information about local organizations that offer free help in critical life areas such as education and job training, medical access and rent assistance. Members of the F.A.D.E. coalition were present and helped distribute information about their organizations work at changing local enforcement of drug related offences. SCSJ also partnered with SpiritHouse and Nicole Campbell of the Durham NAACP to register voters. The justice involved community is one of the hardest constituents to register to vote. This is because of the prevalence of misinformation this community has about their rights to vote. We used this voter registration opportunity to let people know that once they complete their sentence, including parole or probation, they are eligible to vote.

The Clinic’s main goal was to change the ways in which justice involved people participate in advocacy and politics. SpiritHouse helped facilitate a legislative exercise where clients introduced new laws that would help the justice involved earn a true clean slate. In meeting with attorneys and law clerks, clients were given a one on one meeting to let them know both the possibilities and limitations of what our organization can do to help clean their records.

To see people throughout the day register for the clinic, dozens register to vote and many more take part in brainstorming a legislative solution to their problems showed me that those directly affected by injustice are those that have a solution for injustice.

During the clinic we set up a Storytelling Project where people could choose to share their personal story of involvement with the criminal justice system. Here’s what people had to say about how they became justice involved and how it has changed their lives forever.

People Change from SCSJ on Vimeo.

Post by SCSJ Troan Intern Aaron Bryant

clean slate

Aaron Bryant, SCSJ Intern

people change

People Change: Why Clean Slate Matters

America has 5% of the world’s total population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. 65 million people have a criminal record in the United States. Having a criminal conviction can trigger over 900 civil barriers including barriers to employment, housing and education.

At our July 12th Clean Slate Clinic we set up a camera and asked formerly incarcerated people to share their stories. This is what they told us.

People Change from SCSJ on Vimeo.

People Change, but their record stays with them forever.

Without legal representation, all of the people in this video will be haunted by their charges for the rest of their lives. And a criminal record doesn’t just hurt a person’s access to employment and housing – in many cases people even lose their driver’s licenses as a result of a conviction. When people no longer have access to housing, jobs, or even transportation it is difficult to see how they can put food on the table for themselves and their families. Charity is helpful, but it only goes so far. What really helps is access to free Clean Slate services from organizations like SCSJ. Donate today to provide a second chance for a person with a criminal record.

Give a Second Chance. Because People Change.

Every day SCSJ receives requests for Clean Slate assistance from people throughout North Carolina. At the present, we have over 600 individuals hoping to receve Clean Slate services from us. Every client is provided free legal servives, but those servies are not free for SCSJ to provide. In addition to staff time there are fees for client background checks, court filings, and travel. An SCSJ attorney must travel to the county where a person was charged to file for relief, and again to appear before a judge to formally request that relief. All told, each client’s case costs SCSJ an average of $500. Your financial support provides second chances. Please consider a monthly donation to support SCSJ’s Clean Slate Work. Give a second chance today. Because people change. And everyone deserves a second chance.

Video by SCSJ Troan Intern Evey Wilson.

racial profiling

Real Experiences with Racial Profiling

Since early 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in conjunction with our partners in the FADE coalition, has been sounding the alarm with city leaders about racially disparate policing practices in our hometown of Durham, NC. SCSJ attorneys, analysts, and organizers have played a significant role in supporting members of directly affected communities in their efforts to hold the Durham Police Department accountable for its unlawful racial profiling and drug enforcement practices. As part of this effort, we created this new video to showcase the real stories of Durham residents who have experienced racial profiling and been subjected to abusive search practices.

Stories of Racial Profiling in Durham from SCSJ on Vimeo.

Racial Profiling Research

Working in conjunction with political scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill, SCSJ policy analyst Chris Ketchie and attorneys Ian Mance and Daryl Atkinson conducted an in depth statistical analysis of hundreds of thousands of traffic stops and thousands of drug arrests in Durham. The analysis lent powerful empirical support to long-standing community complaints about racialized policing. Among their many findings: Despite accounting for just 17.4% of the city population, black males make up more than 65% of the searched population. A black motorist is more than 100% more likely to be asked for consent to search, even though they are no more likely to be found with contraband than a similarly situated white motorist. Moreover, a black driver in Durham is 179% more likely to be ordered out of a vehicle and searched than a white driver, even after one accounts for age, gender, time of day, and the reason for the stop.

In October 2013, concerned with the numbers and stories being brought to his attention, Durham Mayor Bill Bell asked the city’s Human Relations Commission to investigate allegations that Durham PD had engaged in discriminatory policing. After an unprecedented seven months of hearings, which included rival presentations from SCSJ attorneys Daryl Atkinson and Ian Mance opposite the Durham Police Executive Command Staff, the 14-member commission, persuaded by the statistical evidence and testimony of those directly affected, issued its final report confirming “the existence of racial profiling” in the practices of the department.

Durham Human Relations Commission Racial Profiling Report

As part of its report, the commission published a series of 34 policy recommendations designed to stop racial profiling in Durham and to mitigate the racial disparities evident at every juncture of the city’s criminal justice system. Among the recommendations were five policy changes which had originally been proposed by the FADE coalition, calling for (1) the mandatory use of written consent-to-search forms for all consent-based searches; (2) the designation of marijuana enforcement as the city’s lowest law enforcement priority (LLEP)*; (3) the mandatory periodic review of individual officer stop and search data; (4) the integration of racial equity training into the department’s official training protocol; and (5) a total reform of the structure and mandate of the Durham Civilian Police Review Board.

These recommendations, which enjoy broad based community support, are now on the desk of Durham’s City Manager, Thomas Bonfield, who will inform City Council in August whether he is inclined to move forward with their implementation and how. Mr. Bonfield has spent the month of July meeting with concerned community groups, including SCSJ and FADE, and investigating the practices of other municipal police departments in North Carolina as they pertain to profiling, drug policy, and related issues.

As part of SCSJ’s presentation to the City Manager and his staff last week, and in keeping with SCSJ’s organizational strategy of empowering directly affected people and keeping their voices at the forefront of our efforts, our delegation presented Mr. Bonfield with this 38-minute documentary. The film, produced by SCSJ Troan Intern Evey Wilson and attorney Ian Mance, features stories Durham residents who have been stopped and subjected to invasive searches and uses of force for highly questionable reasons. It is our organization’s hope that city leaders will keep these individuals and their stories in mind as they move forward in their evaluation of the policies and practices of our city police department.

*Note: The HRC did not explicitly endorse marijuana deprioritization; however, it did call for the city to study the issue and to consult with the City of Seattle, which deprioritized (and later legalized) possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Post by SCSJ Attorney Ian A. Mance, Soros Justice Fellow

Your support can help stop racial profiling.

minority voting

Texas Back in Court With U.S. in Minority Voting Fight

Texas Back in Court With U.S. in Minority Voting Fight

Texas will continue using biased election maps to discriminate against black and Latino voters unless ordered to stop, Justice Department lawyers told a panel of U.S. judges as the state’s long-running redistricting trial resumed today in San Antonio.

“We’re here because the State of Texas, as it has in every redistricting cycle since 1970, adopted redistricting plans that discriminate against its minority citizens,” Bryan Sells, a Justice Department lawyer, told a trio of San Antonio judges today. “We have evidence that vote dilution was anything but accidental.”

Texas counters that its Republican-controlled legislature, led by Governor Rick Perry, intended only to weaken Democrats when it drew controversial election maps in 2011, not marginalize black and Latino voters.

The maps “reflect political goals, partisan goals and sometimes unclear guidance in the law,” Patrick Sweeten, chief of the state’s special litigation division, said in court today, “not racial animus.”

Even if the San Antonio judges decide lawmakers “may have made a mistake in interpreting the law, that is not enough to find intentional discrimination,” which the law requires to invalidate the redistricting plan, Sweeten said.

Historical Democrats

To voting-rights activists and the Obama administration, Texas’s position is a distinction without a difference. They contend redrawn voting districts designed to advantage Republicans are biased against minorities who have historically voted more for Democrats.

The resumption of Texas’s three-year fight over election maps is the first voting rights trial since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need federal approval to change their election rules.

If the Obama administration and the voting rights activists it joined win the case, using a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act the high court left intact, Texas may be forced once again to abide by a policy known as preclearance — the prior approval by the Justice Department or a federal court for changes in electoral matters. The victory would serve as an example to other states and jurisdictions, revitalizing a weakened law that opened the polls to millions of southern blacks.

Boldest Step

The Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 marked one of the biggest civil rights decisions in decades and was the boldest step yet by Chief Justice John Roberts’s conservative majority in shedding protections it said are no longer needed.

In terminating the section historically used to trigger the need for preclearance, the court removed a tool the Justice Department had wielded to halt thousands of state and local voting changes. After the decision, Texas imposed voter-identification rules that a Washington court had blocked as discriminatory.

The decision also complicated litigation over Texas’s electoral maps in their long, winding trip through the courts.

Minority rights activists had sued Texas in San Antonio over district maps created by state legislators after the 2010 U.S. census when Texas, now the second-largest U.S. state with 26.5 million residents, gained four congressional seats.

While almost 90 percent of Texas’s 4.3 million new residents were Hispanic and African-American, lawmakers mapped out 10 percent fewer districts likely to elect minority candidates, according to voting-rights advocates.

‘Political Performance’

District boundaries weave in and out of minority communities “to ensure they are always on the losing side of elections,” Allison Riggs, a lawyer for Texas chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the San Antonio judges. “In Texas, this kind of maneuvering is about race, not about political party.”

The special voting rights panel of three federal judges in San Antonio found the maps biased in a preliminary ruling and blocked the state from using them while the case is pending. The judges then drew their own district lines from census data assembled for Texas to use in 2012 elections, which were repeatedly delayed by the case.

On an emergency appeal by Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court said the San Antonio judges should have started with the plan drawn by elected state officials and not created their own. With time running out before the 2012 presidential vote, the judges imposed temporary maps by tweaking a handful of district boundaries they saw as the most biased, according to court papers.

Then came the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Alabama.

Repeal Advised

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who’s running for governor, advised the legislature to repeal the disputed 2011 maps and make the San Antonio judges’ interim versions official.

Texas contends what it called “political gerrymandering” — drawing oddly shaped districts to include specific population groups to make it harder for opposition candidates to win — is allowed under election laws.

Still, adopting interim maps was “the best way to avoid further intervention from federal judges in the Texas redistricting plans,” Abbott said in a letter obtained by opposing lawyers.

Texas failed to persuade the San Antonio judges to dismiss the case after the state adopted the judges’ interim plan. Voting-rights activists want “this court to operate as if the federal judiciary were unrestrained in its powers to intervene in the reapportionment process,” Abbott said in court papers.

Remaining Work

The San Antonio judges replied that Texas redistricting remains a work in progress.

“The new plans may disadvantage plaintiffs to a lesser degree, but they disadvantage them in the same fundamental way,” the court said in a pre-trial ruling.

Sweeten told the judges that lawmakers got legal advice before drawing their maps, which they knew would be reviewed in court.

“When you draw 150 districts in a map, not everyone will be satisfied,” he said. “The good faith of the Legislature must be presumed.”

This week, the voting rights activists, which include the League of United Latin American Citizens and the city of Austin, will argue that Texas acted with “discriminatory intent” in adopting the interim maps and that state lawmakers will probably draw similarly biased districts after the trial concludes unless the court intervenes.

Electoral Oversight

If Texas loses, it might be forced back under federal electoral oversight for as long as 10 years under a largely untested part of the Voting Rights Act left in place by the Supreme Court. The provision requires preclearance if opponents prove a state is currently discriminating against minority voters and likely to do so in the future, the Justice Department said in a July 2013 filing.

The U.S. joined the case after the decision in Shelby v. Alabama, saying in court filings it had a “strong interest” in how courts interpret and apply the provision in states like Texas, with its “pervasive” history of voter discrimination.

Should the U.S. prevail in San Antonio, the government will try to deploy the same preclearance trigger, known as Section 3C, in other voting-rights cases teed up across the country, Justice Department officials say.

The San Antonio trial will be held in multiple parts focused on different sets of maps. This week’s phase will look at maps for the Texas House of Representatives; a second part, to begin Aug. 11, will examine Texas’s congressional districts.

The judges aren’t expected to rule on preclearance right away, and they’ve said they’ll impose any potential remedies on Texas’s electoral maps later in the trial.

The case is Perez v. Texas, 5:11-360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Calkins in federal court in San Antonio, Texas, at laurel@calkins.us.com

This article quoting SCSJ Voting Rights Staff Attorney Allison Riggs originally appeared in Bloomberg Online on July 14, 2014.

Southernside

Victory in Southernside SC Environmental Justice Case

After more than a year of fighting, the Southernside Environmental Justice Title VI case is coming to an amicable conclusion. The Title VI complaint filed by SCSJ in early 2013 stated that the South Carolina Department of Transportation violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding residents of the Southernside neighborhood, an economically disadvantaged community of color, from the decision to demolish a pedestrian bridge that connected the community to the adjacent neighborhood. That Title VI complaint is now being voluntarily withdrawn due to a more collaborative relationship between the Southernside neighborhood and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We were forced to resort to a Title VI complaint in 2013 because at that time the leadership at the South Carolina Department of Transportation would not respond to our concerns,” said state legislator Chandra Dillard. “Now that they are under new leadership that is willing to come to the table, we are no longer obliged to take such a confrontational approach,” continued Dillard.

Southernside

Representative Chandra Dillard

The Hampton Avenue Bridge allowed easier access to a grocery store and pharmacy, among many other benefits.  While the Hampton Avenue Bridge was allegedly demolished due to age and disrepair, SCSJ found that old bridges that served more affluent communities were not demolished, and that its demolition had a disparate negative impact on the underserved residents of color in the neighborhood—a protected group under Title VI. “South Carolina Department of Transportation has taken positive steps in supporting our efforts to find a solution, and we believe they will continue to take the further necessary steps, especially in light of our withdrawal of the complaint, signaling that we are teammates rather than adversaries,” said Dillard.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes in finding the best solution for each community we represent,” said staff attorney Allison Riggs. “We are pleased that the Southernside neighborhood feels that they can resolve this matter amicably. By working directly with the South Carolina Department of Transportation and other key players, we can achieve a more collaborative and efficient resolution than we might through lengthy administrative action. This is a win for our clients.”

Southernside

Southernside Community Meeting

private prison profiteers

Private Prison Profiteers

Private Prisons: The Injustice League

The two largest private prison providers in the U.S. each rake in tens of millions of dollars every year. How do they make their money, and what agreements are in place to protect their profits?

Guaranteed Occupancy

When a prison company approaches a state or city to either build or take over a facility, they’re often guaranteed certain occupancy rates. In other words, law enforcement is expected to provide prisoners (arrest and convict people of crimes) to avoid getting hit with fines, so the incentive to keep people in jail rather than out of jail is pretty clear.
65% – Private prison contracts that include occupancy rate guarantees (1)
80%-100% - Range of guaranteed occupancy rates; 90% is the most frequent (1)
$2 million - Amount Colorado taxpayers have been forced to pay in so-called “low-crime” taxes because crime has dropped by about one-third in the past 10 years (1)

95%-100% occupancy contracts: (1)

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Oklahoma
  • Virginia

Money Talks

It’s little wonder that states and cities have allowed private prisons to move in. The biggest prison companies in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, have spent millions lobbying and donating to political campaigns. (2)
CCA
$17.4 million in lobbying from 2002-2012
$1.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012
GEO Group
$2.5 million in lobbying from 2004-2012
$2.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012

Candidate Contributions

Which candidates have been the biggest beneficiaries of lobbying by private prison companies?
Top candidate recipients, 2013-14 (3)
CCA
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) $7,000
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) $5,000
Steve Fincher (R-TN) $3,500
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) $2,500
Rob Portman (R-OH) $2,500
GEO Group
Henry Cuellar (D-TX) $10,000
Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) $5,000
Joe Garcia (D-FL) $4,000
Mark Begich (D-AK) $3,000
Pete Gallego (D-TX) $2,500

private-prisons

Sources:
1. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org
2. http://www.beyondbars.org
3. http://www.opensecrets.org
Private Prisons
Source: Online-Paralegal-Programs.com

gavel

SCSJ Opposes Voter Suppression in Federal Court

voting rights rollback

Attorneys from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the ACLU of North Carolina appeared in federal court this week to argue for a preliminary injunction that would prevent North Carolina from enforcing its voter suppression bill, H.B. 589, during the November 2014 election. The hearing included testimony from North Carolina voters who will be affected by H.B. 589 as both voters and leaders of non-partisan organizations that educate and register voters. Although the Judge has not announced when he will rule on the SCSJ and ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction, attorneys were encouraged by the judge’s attention to the case and look forward to the ruling.

“This week the court and the public heard from some of the people and grassroots organizations most affected by H.B. 589,” said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney for SCSJ. “Our witnesses demonstrated that African-American voters and citizens in North Carolina will be disproportionately hurt by H.B. 589’s repressive measures, and that the bill makes it more difficult for all people to participate in the political process. H.B. 589 is a violation of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.”

Witnesses at the hearing included Melvin Montford, Executive Director of the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Senator Dan Blue, Representative Rick Glazier, former Director of the Guilford County Board of Elections George Gilbert, and former Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett. The witnesses spoke about measures enacted since 1999 that expanded opportunities for voters to cast their ballots, how those measures have increased the rate at which African-American citizens are registered to vote, and how H.B. 589, enacted through a remarkably bad legislative process, would reverse those gains.

According to Dr. Morgan Kousser, an expert retained by SCSJ, North Carolina has gone from being 48th in the country in voting turnout in 1988 to 11th in the country in 2012, when nearly 65% of the statewide voting-eligible population voted. That dramatic expansion in citizens’ participation in democracy happened after changes to voting laws including the availability of early voting (also called no-excuse in-person absentee voting), same day registration, and the ability to count parts of ballots cast out of a voters’ regular precinct. Speaking to how that change happened, Melvin Montford of the A. Philip Randolph Institute described his dedication to educating voters about the process and getting them to the polls. The flexibility of early voting and same day registration helps grassroots organizations tremendously, and the loss or reduction of those provisions will be a serious obstacle to non-partisan voter education and get out the vote efforts. Representative Rick Glazier said that H.B. 589 was “an ambush on the people of North Carolina.”

In addition to the testimony of individuals who see H.B. 589 in terms of its effect on individual voters, SCSJ and the ACLU presented evidence quantifying the benefits of the procedures that H.B. 589 eliminates or reduces. In the 2010 midterm general election, for instance, over 27,000 voters registered through the same day registration (SDR) procedure that allows voters to register and vote at the same time, and over 200,000 voters cast their ballots on early voting days that are not available under the newly shortened time for early voting.

In addition to the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, SCSJ and the ACLU represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, North Carolina Common Cause, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and individual voters. Joining SCSJ and the ACLU were the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the United States Department of Justice, both of which have brought separate challenges to H.B. 589.

CleanSlate

The Clean Slate program offers a true second chance

Our country was founded on principles of equal opportunity, basic human rights and justice. As a nation, we have overcome social problems using both individual advancement and collective achievement. We did not hesitate to help returning veterans with the GI Bill. We did not waste time helping people in need when we launched the War on Poverty. We must have the same sense of urgency with helping people in need of a second chance because of contact with the criminal justice system. The city of Durham prides itself as being a great city of opportunity, advancement, and community. However, the neglect of marginalized citizens caught in the perpetual lock of the criminal justice system is rarely mentioned.

 

Currently, the United States contains 5 percent of the world’s population while holding 25 percent of the worlds incarcerated individuals. Many of these individuals permanently lose their rights during and after their incarceration. These include access to government assistance for education, healthcare, job training, and even the most fundamental right of citizenship, the right to vote.  What happens when citizens in a community lose their rights? For that community, it could mean the lifetime loss of potentially productive members. For those citizens, it could mean a lack of ability to acquire employment, a home, or a voice in their democratic society.

 

The Criminal Justice Initiative of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice works to promote the full inclusion of people with criminal records into society through its Clean Slate Program. The program helps people with criminal records have a true second chance for opportunity by removing the legal barriers triggered by their contact with the criminal justice system. Participants are screened for eligibility for expungement, certificates of relief, as well as legal representation with occupational licensing boards. The ultimate goal of the program is to put vulnerable and marginalized people back in control of their lives.

 

A Clean Slate clinic is being held this Saturday, July 12th, at the Holton Career Center from 10am-4pm. For more information regarding the Clean Slate program in particular and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in general, please visit http://www.southerncoalition.org/ Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, donate if possible and help us bring true justice to people previously involved in the criminal justice system.

 

Post by SCSJ Intern Aaron Bryant