3-calculating-the-efficiency-gap

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Files Data-Driven Partisan Gerrymandering Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 22, 2016

 

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Files Data-Driven Partisan Gerrymandering Lawsuit 

Challenge adopts standard for measuring partisan advantage in redistricting

 

DURHAM, N.C. – The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint today on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and numerous individual voters, arguing that North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. North Carolina’s 2016 redistricting plan was drafted during a special legislative session after a federal three-judge panel ruled that previous maps were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

“The Constitution guarantees everyone’s right to participate equally in an electoral system that does not discriminate against them because of their beliefs,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s clear that the intent and effect of creating North Carolina’s 2016 congressional maps were to manipulate the democratic process. The result disparages voters and ensures that one party can maintain political power even when a majority of the state’s voters do not support them.”

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims present a legal controversy that courts could potentially resolve. However, to date, the court has not agreed on an acceptable standard to determine when a partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional. League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho offers an empirical analysis to demonstrate the extent to which an extreme gerrymander exists. That analysis is called the efficiency gap, which captures the packing and cracking among a plan’s districts in a single number.

Developed by Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, the efficiency gap is the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. Wasted votes are: (1) any vote cast for a losing candidate; and (2) votes cast for a winning candidate in excess of the number needed to win. More information about wasted votes and how efficiency gaps are calculated is below.

According to the complaint, North Carolina’s efficiency gaps in 2012 and 2014 “exhibited pro-Republican partisan biases larger than 25 percent—[] by far the worst in North Carolina’s modern history and at the far edge of the nationwide distribution.” (p. 16).

“When it comes to congressional districts, North Carolina’s are an extreme and egregious partisan gerrymander. Packing and cracking voters in districts based on their political ideology and voting history classifies voters in an invidious manner unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective,” said Gerry Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Radical partisan gerrymandering like that in this case turns democracy on its head. For the sake of North Carolina voters and voters across our nation, this practice must come to an end. The implementation of our efficiency gap standard would go a long way in ensuring that every voter is entitled to equal protection under the law and having their voice heard.”

Click here to read the full complaint:  http://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Complaint-Final.pdf

 

About the Efficiency Gap:

The efficiency gap determines how close a redistricting plan is to reaching partisan symmetry, which means whether or not similarly-situated political parties are treated equally in a redistricting plan. According to the Campaign Legal Center, “[a] lower number means both parties are treated more equally in the way they can convert votes into seats. A higher number means one party has an advantage in the way it translates its vote share into seat share.”1

In an article explaining how to efficiency gaps are calculated, Nicholas Stephanopoulos provides the following explanation and example:2

The efficiency gap is simply the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. Wasted votes are ballots that don’t contribute to victory for candidates, and they come in two forms:lost votes cast for candidates who are defeated, and surplus votes cast for winning candidates but in excess of what they needed to prevail. When a party gerrymanders a state, it tries to maximize the wasted votes for the opposing party while minimizing its own, thus producing a large efficiency gap. In a state with perfect partisan symmetry, both parties would have the same number of wasted votes.

Suppose, for example, that a state has five districts with 100 voters each, and two parties, Party A and Party B. Suppose also that Party A wins four of the seats 53 to 47, and Party B wins one of them 85 to 15. Then in each of the four seats that Party A wins, it has 2 surplus votes (53 minus the 51 needed to win), and Party B has 47 lost votes. And in the lone district that Party A loses, it has 15 lost votes, and Party B has 34 surplus votes (85 minus the 51 needed to win). In sum, Party A wastes 23 votes and Party B wastes 222 votes. Subtracting one figure from the other and dividing by the 500 votes cast produces an efficiency gap of 40 percent in Party A’s favor.


How Gerrymandering works.

How districts are packed and cracked.

Calculating the efficiency gap.

1 – Hebert, J. G., & Greenwood, R. (n.d.). Make Democracy Count: Ending Partisan Gerrymandering (Rep.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.campaignlegalcenter.org/sites/default/files/CLC_PartisanGerrymandering_Report.pdf (p.5)

 

2 – Stephanopoulos, N. (2014). Here’s How We Can End Gerrymandering Once and for All. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from https://newrepublic.com/article/118534/gerrymandering-efficiency-gap-better-way-measure-gerrymandering

 

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SCSJ Files Amicus Brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia’s Racial Gerrymandering Case

September 15, 2016

 

 

Amicus Brief Filed at the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia’s Racial Gerrymandering Case

Race was a factor when lawmaker drew legislative districts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus brief yesterday afternoon in support of plaintiffs in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. In the brief, the NAACP and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP argue that the state’s unnecessary use of race in redistricting the House of Delegates in 2011 fractured African-American communities and packed black voters into as few districts as possible, and thus violates the U.S. Constitution.  

Allison Riggs, Staff Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after filing the brief:

“If the racially gerrymandered districts are allowed to stand, it would not only harm African-American voters in Virginia, but it could encourage other states to follow suit.  Racial segregation in redistricting disrupts the right to vote on equal terms, and this disruption has a ripple effect through communities whose members are assigned to districts based solely on the color of their skin.”
About the Brief:

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the brief today at the U.S. Supreme Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections in support of the NAACP.  The brief argues that:

  • misapplication of racial quotas can harm African-American voters;
  • the lower court improperly analyzed evidence that demonstrated the use of race as a predominant factor in the redistricting process; and
  • certain districts where African-American voters had significant existing influence were treated the same as districts where they had not.

A full pdf of the brief can be found at: http://bit.ly/Bethune-Hill
About the case:

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections will be considered by the U.S.Supreme Court as part of its fall docket.  The case questions whether or not the one-size-fits-all method used to pack African-American voters into legislative districts is permissible.  The plaintiffs are represented by the NAACP and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.  

IMG_1519.JPG

NC Early Voting Restrictions Draw National Attention

Local boards throughout North Carolina are determining how to conduct this year’s election after a federal appeals court overturned much of the state’s voter restriction law last month.  The law was passed in 2013 and the court determined that it was drafted with discriminatory intent.  This was done by eliminating several of the voting methods and patterns commonly used by African-American voters in the state.  New voting plans and schedules need to be adopted by local elections boards to comply with the court ruling, but that is raising questions in some areas.

Every three member local elections board is composed of two Republicans and one Democrat.  While 66 of the 100 county boards have submitted bipartisan plans, the remaining 34 counties did not reach a compromise.  Allison Riggs, Senior Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) who successfully argued the case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, recently told the New York Times that while many of the plans appear to be fair, “We’re in the neighborhood of 10, up to 20 that are really problematic.”

North Carolina is a battleground state this election.  Races for president, U.S. Senate, and governor are all hotly contested, and voting restrictions could cast a cloud over the outcomes.  SCSJ is reviewing local election plans and could challenge those it views as unfair to minority voters.

Click here to read the full the New York Times article from August 31 that covers many of the questions surrounding North Carolina’s voting process for this November’s election.

Voter_ID

SCSJ releases Supreme Court response to North Carolina’s Emergency Voting Case

SCSJ releases Supreme Court response to North Carolina’s Emergency Voting Case

Durham, NC — On Thursday, August 25, the League of Women Voters, represented by SCSJ, and other plaintiffs in State of North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP asked the Supreme Court deny the State’s request to stay the Fourth Circuit’s July 29 decision. The appeals court ruled that North Carolina’s 2013 monster voter law was enacted with racially discriminatory intent and could not be used in any future election. In its brief, SCSJ highlighted that the state had already implemented the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, and that fact, plus the discriminatory nature of the law, meant that the Supreme Court should let that ruling stand to ensure that voters in November are not subjected to unconstitutional laws.

Seventeen days after the Fourth Circuit wrote a damning decision against North Carolina, the State filed a request to stay the decision, citing a lack of proper timing to adjust for the changes by the November elections. However, during the seventeen days between the court decision and the request for a stay, board of elections statewide considered, approved, and began publicizing early voting plans, dates, and sites. Not only has sufficient action been taken in such a short amount of time, but the State earlier in the year suggested it would be able to “comply with any order…issued by late July,” as to not avoid changing plans so late in August.

Furthermore, the State’s request dismisses the Court’s findings that the General Assembly “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision” when eliminating voting opportunities in 2013. The Fourth Circuit determined that the legislature enacted voting restrictions with a discriminatory purpose, which cannot be reconciled with the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

“State and county election officials have now implemented the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, and any change now—particularly a change back to a discriminatory and unconstitutional election scheme—would be confusing and disenfranchising. We’re confident that the Supreme Court will see that based on our brief,” said Allison Riggs, voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

In sum, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice argued to the Supreme Court that a stay should be denied as such a decision would be a miscarriage of justice and inconsistent with this Court’s precedents to permit North Carolina’s discriminatory voting law to remain in force through the 2016 election.

 

 

(C) CommonDreams.org

Federal judges order NC to redraw racially gerrymandered legislative districts

 

DURHAM, N.C. — Voters and voting rights advocates won a major court victory today in North Carolina, where three federal judges unanimously found that 28 of the state’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn after the November 2016 election.

The three-judge court in the Middle District of North Carolina found that the North Carolina General Assembly unconstitutionally used race when it drew the districts following the 2010 U.S. Census, needlessly increasing the percentage of black voters in districts where black voters had been successfully electing their candidates of choice for years.

“After careful consideration of the evidence presented, we conclude that race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Moreover, Defendants have not shown that their use of race to draw any of these districts was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.” However, the three judges cautioned that today’s decision “should in no way be read to imply that majority-black districts are no longer needed in the state of North Carolina.”

As a result of North Carolina’s redistricting formula, “I was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race,” said Sandra Covington, a retired elementary school teacher in Fayetteville and the lead plaintiff in the case. Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts. “Today’s decision is a clear message that North Carolina voters have a right not to be assigned to election districts based solely on the color of their skin,” she said.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues to be necessary “but should not be used to pack black voters or minimize their influence in the political process,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who called the General Assembly’s race-based approach to redistricting after the 2010 Census “a recipe for permanent racial segregation.” The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with Poyner Spruill LLP and Adam Stein of the Tin Fulton law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the case.

Trial in the case took place April 11-15 in Greensboro before Circuit Judge James Wynn, District Judge Thomas Schroeder, and District Judge Catherine Eagles.

For the full opinion, click here.

Justice

Judge orders remedial actions in Wake County redistricting case

Raleigh, NC — This morning, August 9, a judge overseeing the Wake County redistricting case ordered a series of actions to resolve the unconstitutional redistricting for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the Wake County School Board.

The following is the list of actions to correct the situation, as ordered by the judge.

County Board of Commissioners:

  • March Primaries held in District A and B are void as these districts are unconstitutional.
  • Candidates from residency districts 4, 5, and 6 will run at large as previously scheduled.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
School Board:
  • Wake County Board of Elections must use 2011 districts.
  • All 9 single-member districts will be elected in November 2016 by plurality.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
  • There will be no run off elections.
  • These districts are only to be used for the 2016 elections.
The judge also stated his expectations that the General Assembly will create a system to resolve the unconstitutional districts upon reconvening in January 2017.
“This is a victory for basic fairness. It is not the American way to change the rules in the middle of the game because you are losing. That is what the General Assembly did when they passed these unconstitutional districts,” said Dr. Earl C. Johnson, plaintiff and former president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

For the link to the official order, click here.

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a legal nonprofit engaged in voting rights advocacy, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. The organization was founded in 2007 in Durham, North Carolina.

redistricting

Court will not reconsider unconstitutional election map ruling in Wake County

Durham, NC — On July 26, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing en banc filed by the Wake County Board of Elections in litigation over the method of electing the School Board and County Commission. This decision means that the lower court must now implement the Fourth Circuit’s earlier ruling that the General Assembly’s redistricting plans for the Wake County Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners are unconstitutional and elections should not proceed in 2016 using those plans.

Earlier this month, the appeals court struck down two North Carolina laws that dramatically restructured those boards for partisan reasons. Reversing the district court, which upheld the General Assembly’s laws in February, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the plans unconstitutionally deviated from the “one person, one vote” guarantee in the federal and state constitutions. The Fourth Circuit entered immediate judgment for the plaintiffs, and stated that, “We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented plaintiffs in these actions, said of the ruling: “On behalf of my clients who have been steadfast in the long and hard fight to vindicate their rights, I am pleased that we are now in a position to return to the prior constitutionally-drawn districts system for both Boards.”

To view the court documents, click here.

Alberta Currie

Alberta Currie

Meet Alberta Currie, the lead plaintiff in SCSJ’s litigation challenging North Carolina’s strict Voter ID requirement.

Voting is a matter of pride for Alberta Currie. Since the age of 21 in 1956, she consistently has voted in every election. It was her grandmother who instilled in her the importance of never missing a voting day. But due to a voter ID provision in the state’s new Monster Voter Suppression Law, she may not be able to cast a ballot on Election Day in the coming years.

Currie, a 78-year-old native of Robeson County who now lives in Hope Mills, does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate. She doesn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home to a midwife during the Jim Crow days of the segregated South.

On August 13, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court – with Currie as the lead plaintiff – challenging the new voter ID requirement of the law. The suit was filed on behalf of the N.C. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and several individual voters, including Alberta Currie. The case will go to trial in late September of 2016.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice supports the rights of all voters – particularly those like  Alberta Currie and an estimated 318,000 other North Carolinians – who may completely lose the ability to vote due to changes in voting laws. SCSJ is currently engaged in voting rights litigation in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Litigating the current onslaught of repressive voting laws requires a team of experts, extensive travel, filing fees, and numerous other expenses in addition to regular operating costs. Your donation continues the fight for the voting rights of people like Alberta Currie. Please consider making a recurring donation to help sustain our voting rights litigation year-roundClick here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers

YJP Cover Photo

First in Flight, Last in Youth Justice

by Austin Braxton

North Carolina is the only state that automatically processes every 16 and 17 year-old through its adult criminal justice system without an opportunity for the youth to appeal for a transfer to juvenile court.[1] In fact, juvenile court jurisdiction in 41 states and the District of Columbia extends to most persons under the age of 18.[2] The consequences of this policy outlier are harmful to North Carolina’s youth and place them at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers in other states.

Youth processed through the adult criminal justice system are more likely to be physically or sexually abused and more likely to commit suicide than youth adjudicated through the juvenile justice system.[3] Furthermore, studies have shown that youth are more likely to receive rehabilitation through the juvenile justice system and that recidivism rates are higher for youth transferred to the criminal justice system.[4] In addition, North Carolina youth face the harsh collateral consequences associated with criminal justice involvement at a much younger age, creating obstacles to obtaining gainful employment, financial aid for higher education, and even government housing—all because of adolescent mistakes. In these ways and more, North Carolina disadvantages its youth through its policy that is a departure from the national trend.

The results of North Carolina’s regressive youth justice policy clearly show that change is needed. A very small number of offenders may require the incapacitation that the criminal justice system provides, but there is no need to prosecute all youth as adults by default, especially since North Carolina already employs a robust transfer process to remove youth offenders of certain crimes to the criminal justice system.[5] North Carolina’s juvenile justice jurisdiction would have expanded if House Bill 399, the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act, had been enacted last summer.[6] Instead, North Carolina’s youth languish as the bill lies with the House Committee on the Judiciary II.[7]

A primary concern of North Carolina lawmakers with expanding the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system is funding.[8] Quite simply, North Carolina’s juvenile justice system is already under-resourced, so an expansion of its jurisdiction represents an up-front cost to its taxpayers. Fortunately, morality is not the only incentive for raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. In 2011, the Vera Institute compiled a report that provided a cost-benefit analysis of enacting this change in policy, finding that a net benefit of $52.3 million annually for raising the age.[9]

The caveat to this net benefit is that the offsetting benefits of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction do not directly return to the state. Although taxpayers would experience some savings as a result of shrinking the jurisdiction of the adult criminal justice system, the vast majority of the benefits are experienced by the youth that are spared an adult criminal conviction. These youth can expect to have higher salaries and contribute more to North Carolina’s economy long-term. Unfortunately, the short-term costs of raising the age has hindered legislation thus far. Though lack of funding is a legitimate concern for raising the age, an inspiring case study for the budgetary impact of this policy change can be found in the state of Connecticut.

Connecticut raised the age of juvenile justice jurisdiction gradually to allay a budget crisis and opposition from law enforcement.[10] Prior to 2010, Connecticut’s juvenile justice system was comparable to those in North Carolina and New York, but youth in Connecticut now experience among the highest levels of protection in the country.[11] Connecticut enacted its raise the age legislation anticipating an increase of $84 million in higher operating costs and $81 million in new construction costs,[12] which is roughly comparable to the estimates submitted by the Vera Institute for North Carolina. However, Connecticut never increased its spending on juvenile justice.[13] The large drop in total arrests for youth in this age bracket precipitated this unprecedented outcome and led to only marginal increases in population size in the state’s detention centers.[14] Furthermore, since the change in policy, Connecticut has experienced lower re-arrest rates for 16-year-olds than for youth 15 and younger,[15] demonstrating the effectiveness of keeping youth out of the adult criminal justice system.

North Carolina also has the opportunity to reap the rewards of juvenile justice reform. Like in Connecticut, arrests of youth in the 16 and 17 year-old age bracket have steadily declined since 2005 in North Carolina.[16] Specifically, total arrests in this age group declined by 36% from 2005 to 2014.[17] Therefore, the costs estimated by the Vera Institute report are likely overstated. North Carolina should seize this opportunity to emulate Connecticut’s success with juvenile justice reform and raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to protect their youth. In so doing, this state would follow the lead of 7 other states that have recently raised the age of jurisdiction for their juvenile justice systems: Connecticut,[18] Illinois,[19] Mississippi,[20]Massachusetts,[21] New Hampshire,[22] Utah,[23] and Nebraska.[24]

Currently, the Subcommittee on Juvenile Jurisdiction for the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice in North Carolina is drafting a report with recommendations for legislation on raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. The subcommittee recommends raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16 and 17 year-olds, with exceptions for youth accused of Class A-E felonies.[25] This recommendation is contingent, however, upon the receipt of funding to implement the change.[26] Stakeholders adamantly maintain that raising the age without full funding would be “detrimental” to North Carolina’s court system.[27] Furthermore, the Subcommittee reemphasized[28] the predicted net benefit of the Vera Institute’s analysis and itemized the spending necessary to expand juvenile court jurisdiction.[29] Hopefully, this work will lead to new legislation that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina, or at least a revitalization of House Bill 399. Although North Carolina stands alone in its outdated youth justice policies, some of its lawmakers continue the fight to keep youth out of the adult criminal justice system.

Austin Braxton is a rising 2L law student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a summer legal intern with the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

**This blog post was originally posted on the Youth Justice Project website on June 9, 2016. The original post can be found here.**

[2] http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04101.asp.
[3] http://www.johnlocke.org/acrobat/spotlights/YoungOffenders.pdf.
[4] Id.
[5] http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/tryingjuvasadult/states/nc.html.
[6] http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H399v1.pdf.
[7]http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015&BillID=H399.
[8] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Minutes-12.11.2015.pdf, page 6.
[9] http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/CBA-of-Raising-Age-Juvenile-Jurisdiction-NC-final.pdf, page 11.
[10]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[11] Id.
[12] Id. at 15.
[13] http://www.raisetheagect.org/results-cost.html.
[14]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[15] Id. at 17.
[16] http://crimereporting.ncsbi.gov/Reports.aspx.
[17] Id.
[18]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[19] http://cfyj.org/news/blog/item/raise-the-age-bills-flourish-in-2016.
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/2014-juvenile-justice-state-legislation.aspx.
[23] http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/news/blog/item/2015-state-legislative-sessions-an-update-on-nationwide-juvenile-justice-reforms-to-protect-youth-from-the-adult-criminal-justice-system.
[24] http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/2014-juvenile-justice-state-legislation.aspx.
[25] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/May-2016-Juvenile-Committee-Meeting-POSTING.pdf, page 43.
[26] Id. at 49.
[27] Id.
[28] Id. at 37.
[29] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/IA1509-21_H399R0.pdf.
second chance

VA NAACP asks VA Supreme Court to uphold return of voting rights to people with prior felony convictions

Richmond, VA. —The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed a brief on Monday, June 27, 2016 in the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions.

Gov. McAuliffe’s Order for the Restoration of Rights, issued April 22, 2016, represents a significant step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony convictions are able to not only re-enter and meaningfully participate in society, but also exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Currently, under Virginia law, people with felony convictions are automatically stripped of their political rights, and the governor alone has the power to restore those rights after completion of the individuals’ sentences. The Commonwealth’s extreme felony disenfranchisement provision is well outside the mainstream nationwide, and it exists and has persisted for explicitly racially discriminatory reasons dating to the 19th century.

Exercising his exclusive power under the Virginia Constitution, the governor ordered that a slew of critical civil rights—the rights to vote, hold political office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public—be immediately restored to the approximately 206,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions. In issuing his order, the governor noted that “Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts.”

In support of the Governor’s action, on Monday the Virginia NAACP submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Virginia Supreme Court in Howell v. McAuliffe, explaining why the Governor’s executive order was appropriate given the unbroken thread of racial discrimination woven into the Commonwealth’s constitution. Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and others have petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the Governor’s action as an improper exercise of his constitutional power. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on July 19 in Richmond.

Voting restrictions are but one example of the far-reaching negative consequences felony convictions can have on individuals’ lives—consequences that persist long after those individuals’ terms of incarceration and supervised release have concluded. In addition to being denied the right to participate in the political process, Virginians with felony convictions face heightened barriers to obtaining reliable housing, steady employment and other basic necessities, even after completing their sentences. These barriers disproportionately affect minority and low-income Virginians, and contribute to a cycle of recidivism that further stacks the deck against formerly incarcerated people seeking to re-enter and positively contribute to society.

“Felony disenfranchisement laws like the one in Virginia have no place in modern society, and the brief filed today outlines many of the reasons why that is the case,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the Virginia NAACP in this matter and provides legal assistance and re-entry services to communities across the South. “Any action taken to ameliorate the racially discriminatory effects of such laws should be applauded and upheld, not attacked.”

To access the amicus brief, click here.