voter_suppression

Changes Made to North Carolina Voter ID Requirements

On the eve of trial in the legal challenge to North Carolina’s oppressive Voter ID law, the General Assembly has capitulated, voting overwhelmingly in both houses to allow qualified voters who lack photo identification to affirm their identities and exercise their constitutional right to vote.

In passing House Bill 836 on Thursday, the General Assembly created an alternative to disenfranchisement for voters who lack current photo identification. Those voters will now be able to cast a ballot after providing their birthdates, the last four digits of their Social Security number, and an affidavit stating that there is a “reasonable impediment” to their ability to present a photo ID.

This change comes after months of litigation by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, and individuals, against the North Carolina State Board of Elections. The new legislation follows a series of nine public hearings held across the state this month, at which election officials fielded comments from the public about implementation of the Voter ID requirement, which takes effect beginning with the 2016 presidential primary election. SCSJ and its partners were present at each of those nine public hearings, from Manteo to Boone, and encouraged the state to allow more flexibility in implementation of the Voter ID requirement to minimize the number of voters who are disenfranchised by the 2013 voter suppression law.

At the June 3rd hearing in Raleigh, Dr. Brenda Rogers, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, urged the State Board of Elections “to provide clarification to ensure that all eligible voters may exercise their constitutional right, which is not a privilege, but a right.” Rogers provided examples of how the law leaves open to interpretation many aspects of the Voter ID requirement, which harms voters by creating confusion in the election process and the potential for unequal enforcement of the law.

In encouraging House members to pass House Bill 863 on Thursday, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, emphasized that the feedback received during the public hearing process necessitated a legislative response. When the General Assembly passed the Voter Information Verification Act in August 2013, Lewis said, “we said that it was our intent that every person who was a duly eligible voter would be fully able to participate and exercise their right.” Lewis noted that the new bill fills some of the gaps left by VIVA by providing “a failsafe” for affected voters, ensuring that “a qualified voter will have no impediment in exercising their right to vote.”

Since VIVA was enacted in 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and its partners have amassed a huge amount of evidence demonstrating the burden that the voter suppression bill places on qualified voters in North Carolina, not only by imposing a photo ID requirement, but also by cutting a week out of the early voting period, eliminating same-day registration, discounting valid votes cast outside a voter’s assigned precinct, eliminating pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-old citizens, and eliminating straight-ticket voting. These changes not only add to the already long lines at polling places and the administrative burden placed on election officials, but they also disenfranchise qualified North Carolina voters who for valid reasons are unable to obtain photo identification or make multiple trips to government agencies in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Although today’s changes are a step in the right direction for North Carolina voters, obstacles to voting remain. During debate on the House floor Thursday afternoon, Rep. Henry Michaux, D-Durham, noted that the modification merely “makes a bad bill a little less worse.”

Contact: George Eppsteiner, Staff Attorney for voting rights, 919-794-4220; Allison Riggs, Senior Attorney for Voting Rights, 919-323-3909; Anita Earls, Executive Director, 919-794-4198

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SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson on the PBS NewsHour discussing “Ban the Box”

SCSJ Senior Attorney for Criminal Justice Daryl Atkinson appeared on the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 and discussed “Ban the Box” hiring reform with NewsHour Senior Correspondent William Brangham and senior executive counsel for the National Federation for American Business Elizabeth Milito.

From its earliest days as a refuge for colonial settlers seeking a fresh start in a new world to its years as the land of opportunity for immigrants dreaming of new beginnings, America’s story has always been one of second chances. A promise to begin anew to make a better life is both inherent to America’s character and deeply embedded in its value system.

However, the nation has not embraced the ideal of second chances for people convicted of crimes.  Over the last 30 years America has experienced an explosion in the number of people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system: nearly 1.6 million people are currently in prison, 4 million are on probation, and 70 million have a criminal record. For many job applicants throughout the country, one question blocks them from gainful employment and economic opportunity: a single question, often posed as a checkbox on the front of most job applications, which asks about an applicant’s criminal history. For many employers, it has become a way to weed out applicants before ever considering qualifications such as education and job history. This practice is widespread, and its negative effects on job applicants and their communities are staggering.

Rather than let this pernicious barrier to opportunity stand, a movement to “Ban the Box”-to remove this checkbox from applications- has risen to disassemble such structural discrimination facing people with criminal records. The “Ban the Box” movement was birthed in the Bay Area by a group of formerly incarcerated people named “All of Us or None”.  To date, 17 states across the country and more than 100 cities and counties have passed laws to remove this barrier, to great advantage. Atkinson described the successful passage of “Ban the Box” legislation in both the County and City of Durham, North Carolina in 2011 and 2012:

“I believe that millions of people who cycle in and out of our criminal justice system can be successful as well if they have the necessary support…We have seen the percentage of people hired who have criminal records go up every year without any increases in workplace theft or crime. None of these folks have been subsequently terminated because they committed a subsequent offense.”

Durham’s success is hardly a flash in the pan; the gains it has reaped since banning the box are consistent with those in recent findings evaluating the larger impact of Ban the Box hiring reform.

Today, Americans are taking increasing notice of the injustices inherent to the country’s system of mass criminalization as well as the collateral consequences that individuals-disproportionately people of color-suffer as a result of their contact with the criminal legal system. More and more, they recognize how discriminatory hiring practices facing formerly incarcerated people betray America’s promise and are thus taking action to ensure that people with convictions have a fair chance to work. In recent months, elected officials and business leaders have joined religious, labor, and civil rights groups in supporting the national civil and human rights coalition comprised of formerly incarcerated people that launched and currently leads the nation-wide “Ban the Box” campaign.

Watch the full segment and view a transcript of the NewsHour segment here:

 

This post was written by SCSJ Researcher Sarah Moncelle

 

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SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson a finalist for David Carliner Public Interest Award

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Senior Staff Attorney for Criminal Justice Daryl Atkinson was recognized as a finalist for the American Constitution Society’s (ACS) David Carliner Public Interest Award at the 2015 ACS National Convention in Washington D.C. on Thursday, June 11.

The award is given annually to a mid-career public interest lawyer and honors an attorney whose work best exemplifies David Carliner’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people. Carliner, who began as an activist organizing against poll taxes, militarism and white supremacy in 1930s and 40s Virginia, became a pioneering immigration attorney who served as the founding chair of the American Civil Liberties Union–National Capital Area and Global Rights.

Atkinson was named a finalist for his advocacy efforts on behalf of formerly incarcerated people.

 

 

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SCSJ honored by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina

The League of Women Voters of North Carolina honored the Southern Coalition for Social Justice with its Outstanding State League Partner Organization Award at the League’s statewide biennial convention in Durham on Saturday, June 6th. The award recognizes organizations for “their collaborative services that have enabled the LWVNC to be a stronger, more effective organization congruent with its mission and purpose.” SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls accepted the award on behalf of the organization at the banquet where she further gave the keynote speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and examining recent attacks on voting rights.

Partnering with community organizations to defend and advance political, social and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications is central to SCSJ’s mission. It is honored to receive this recognition for its work protecting minority voting rights, advancing environmental justice and advocacy, challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and ending discrimination against immigrants and the mistreatment of undocumented persons.

The League of Women Voters of North Carolina  is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy for a diverse range of issues such as environmental protection, fair elections, voter protection immigrant rights, public education reform, and health care. SCSJ is proud to be a LWVNC partner organization and it looks forward to further collaboration with the League in the future.  

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North Carolina Put On Lawsuit Notice Over Declining Voter Registration

This story was written by Samantha Lachman and was first published to HuffPost Politics on June 1, 2015.

WASHINGTON — A slate of civil rights groups put North Carolina on notice Monday, writing in a pre-litigation letter that the state must meet its voter registration obligations or risk a lawsuit.

The letter alleges that the state’s motor vehicle and public assistance agencies are violating legal requirements set out in the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to provide voter registration services to citizens and transmit registration information to election officials.

The legislation, signed in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton and commonly referred to as the “motor voter” law, delineates that state motor vehicle agencies must provide voter registration services whenever a person applies for, renews or changes his or her address on a driver’s license or government-issued identification card. It also requires public assistance, disability and military recruiting offices to facilitate voter registration.

In a previous letter from May, the groups noted that the number of voter registrations originating from public assistance agencies dropped 66 percent from 2011 to 2014, from 42,988 applications to 13,340. The groups said that field investigations at state Department of Health and Human Services offices revealed that three-quarters of interviewees said they did not receive any sort of verbal or written opportunity to register.

Therefore, the civil rights groups say, the North Carolina DMV “systematically fails to transmit voter registration applications to elections officials within the time limits required by the NVRA when consumers indicate a desire to register.”

The drop in applications processed corresponds with the tenure of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who took office in January of 2013. His administration has said the decline is unintentional, and may be procedural in nature.

Complaints about state voter registration processes are relatively common and have cropped up in other locations this year. Both Texas and California have recently been accused of being non-compliant with the NVRA. In 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration called the NVRA “the election statute most often ignored” and said “the low level of participation by DMVs leaves no doubt that motor voter is not working as intended.”

The letter to the North Carolina agencies cites the example of Sherry Denise Holverson, a North Carolina resident who switched counties in 2014. In June, she visited a DMV office to update the address on her driver’s license and asked to have that change reflected on her voter registration information. But when she went to vote early in October, she was told there was no record of her registration. Holverson was forced to cast a provisional ballot, which was not ultimately counted.

The NVRA requires that unless a person opts out, driver’s license address changes automatically serve as requests to update voter registration. So in the case of Holverson, her voter registration record should have had her new address.

It appears that public officials in North Carolina are aware that there is a disconnect between what the NVRA dictates and what their counties are doing. For instance, a public records request revealed that Gary Sims, the deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections, emailed the state’s Board of Elections to bring attention to an incident concerning the daughter of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who found she was unable to vote in October.

“We have seen this over and over and over again,” he wrote. “DMV needs to address their issues. They simply do not get their roll [sic] in registration and this results in a lot of provisionals.”

According to the letter from the rights’ groups, information provided in response to records requests also revealed that in more than half of North Carolina’s counties, voters who were forced to cast provisional ballots last year because their names did not appear on rolls had previously registered to vote or updated their voter registration information at the DMV.

The groups are demanding that the state come up with procedures to ensure that North Carolinians are able to vote after submitting an application or updating their registration. In the letter, they write that they “will have no alternative but to initiate litigation” in 90 days if no state action is taken.

“It’s been overwhelming, the last few months, the number of people we’ve interacted with where the DMV has just failed,” said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which signed the notice. “It’s not like we’re dying to sue the state, we’d like to work towards a solution that works for everyone. But if we need to litigate to get a better outcome, we will.”

Some of the problems with NVRA compliance result from an inconsistent collection of data. A 2014 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, for instance, wasn’t able to compare all the states covered by the law because data is so barren.

“Results show that almost none of the states covered by the law can document the degree to which their motor vehicle agencies are offering citizens the opportunity to register to vote or update their registrations,” the report read. It found that motor vehicle agencies, in the absence of enforcement of the law, “have seen little reason to allocate scarce time and money” to meeting their voter registration responsibilities. Data systems between state agencies are often incompatible, and citizens are frequently unaware they should be offered the opportunity to register when they interact with state agencies.

Voting rights advocates in North Carolina are also concerned that voting restrictions signed by McCrory in 2013 are exacerbating registration issues. The Republican-controlled legislature repealed same-day registration, shortened the early voting period and added a government-issued photo identification requirement to vote, which will be in effect for 2016’s election unless it is overturned in court.

“When we had same-day registration we were able to fix DMV problems — as long as someone went to vote during early voting, it didn’t matter if the DMV screwed up,” Riggs said. “Now, the DMV screwup is being felt even more.”

Joshua Lawson, a spokesman for the state’s Board of Elections, said the agency is meeting with the state DMV Wednesday to identify areas that are allegedly non-compliant under the NVRA.

“We’re of course taking it seriously and we welcome the participation of civic organizations like this, to highlight areas where North Carolina could come into compliance,” he said. “If there is an issue of non-compliance, then we look forward to making it more convenient for folks to get registered.”

Let people vote

North Carolina In Violation of “Motor Voter” Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 1, 2015

CONTACT:

Dēmos: Donté Donald, 212-485-6012, ddonald@demos.org

Project Vote: Michael McDunnah, 202-905-1397, mmcdunnah@projectvote.org

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice: Allison Riggs, 919-323-3380 ext.117, allison@southerncoalition.org

 

NORTH CAROLINA IN VIOLATION OF “MOTOR VOTER” LAW:

Voting Rights Groups Call on State to Fix Voter Registration at DMVs, or Face Litigation

(New York, Raleigh, Washington, D.C.) – Attorneys for Action NC, Democracy North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), and several North Carolina residents sent a prelitigation notice letter today to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE), as well as Secretary of Transportation Anthony Tata and Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Kelly Thomas alleging that the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) is failing to meet its voter registration obligations.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), commonly known as “Motor Voter,” requires the DMV to provide voter registration services whenever an individual applies for, renews, or changes their address on a driver’s license or state-issued identification card. DMVs are then required to transmit this information to the appropriate election official within 10 days (or 5 days if a voter registers or changes their information within 5 days of the close of registration).

Today’s letter—sent on behalf of the individuals and voting rights groups by attorneys from Dēmos, Project Vote, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—cites clear evidence that the DMV is violating its legal requirement to provide voter registration services and transmit registration information to election officials.

This letter comes little more than three weeks after the same organizations notified North Carolina that it was in violation of the provisions of the NVRA requiring the State to provide public assistance clients with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote. The letter provides North Carolina with official notice that its DMVs are failing to comply with the NVRA, starting a 90-day timeline for the State to come into compliance or face litigation.

“Voters who either registered to vote or updated their voter information through the DMV are routinely being told that they are not on the rolls when they go to the polls to vote,” said Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “They are being cheated out of their right to vote.”

“Transmittal problems are not limited to an office or geographic region,” said Stuart Naifeh, Counsel at Dēmos. “The problem is systemic—it’s occurring across the State and affecting voters of all political persuasions. North Carolina needs to take immediate steps to make sure that its citizens are not being disenfranchised as a result of errors by the DMV or election officials.”

According to today’s letter, in the 2014 General Election, numerous individuals who thought they had registered to vote at the DMV were forced to cast provisional ballots because their names were not on the voter registration rolls. For instance, in Mecklenburg County, out of nearly 880 provisional ballots cast, 157 (nearly 18%) were cast by individuals who said they had registered at the DMV.

“As an organization that’s dedicated to increasing the number of individuals registered and engaging in the political process, we are clearly troubled by the fact the voters across the state are going to the polls, ready to participate, and being forced to vote provisionally,” said Pat McCoy, Executive Director of Action NC. “The voices of these voters are often completely silenced because the fact that the voter registered or updated their information with the DMV cannot be verified.”

Sherry Holverson, one of the individuals on whose behalf today’s notice letter was sent, is a qualified North Carolina voter who changed her registration information at a DMV office after moving from one county to another. When Ms. Holverson went to the early voting site to cast a ballot, she was told that her name was not on the registration rolls and was given a provisional ballot. Her provisional ballot was ultimately not counted.

“You do everything right, and it doesn’t make a difference,” Ms. Holverson stated.

“We spoke to a lot of people who registered or updated their information with the DMV and were forced to vote provisionally because their names did not make it onto the rolls,” said Catherine M. Flanagan, Senior Counsel for Project Vote. “Some ultimately had their ballots counted, but others, such as our client Sherry Holverson, did not. They were disenfranchised as a result of the State’s violation of the NVRA.”

Information provided in response to records requests reveal that in more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties, voters who cast provisional ballots in the 2014 General Election because their names did not appear on the rolls had, in fact, registered to vote through the DMV.

“Clearly there is a major breakdown in the DMV voter registration process,” said Allison Riggs, a senior attorney at Southern Coalition. “The DMV’s transmittal system is archaic and inefficient: it requires that voter registration applications be transmitted both in paper and electronic form before an individual’s name is added to the rolls. Establishing clear, streamlined procedures and improving training will help the DMV meet its NVRA obligations.”

“If an individual registered with the DMV, they should be able to enter the voting site with confidence that they will be able to cast a regular ballot and have their vote counted,” said Melvin Montford, President of the North Carolina APRI. “It is our hope that given the universality of this problem, all actors will come to the table committed to identifying and implementing policies and procedures that will help protect the fundamental right to vote.”

 

WASHINGTON - JULY 07: A man holds a sign against racial profiling during a protest with Community and faith leaders from Arizona in front of the White House on July 7, 2010 in Washington, DC. Activists plan a 24-hour vigil outside the White House to protest the imminent new immigration law in Arizona.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Orange County group sends police chiefs, sheriff advice for fighting police bias

This story was written by Tammy Grubb and was first published in The News & Observer on May 26, 2015.

A coalition of attorneys, citizens and community advocates is asking Orange County law enforcement to weed out any racial bias in their departments.

The Orange County Bias-Free Policing Coalition recommended 11 steps, including periodic review of stop, search and arrest data; dashboard and body cameras for officers; mandatory use of written consent-to-search forms; and the treatment of marijuana possession as a low-priority crime.

The coalition has given Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough police, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, until July 3 to respond.

While bias may start with the officer on the street, it’s important to understand that it’s not just a policing issue, said Orange County public defender James Williams Jr., a member of the coalition.

“The whole system needs to be involved in efforts to address (bias),” he said. “If we only look at the police, then I think we will never get this right.”

The coalition’s report noted key findings of a statewide police bias study released in December. The study found the Chapel Hill Police Department made 65,460 stops and 2,427 searches between 2002 and 2013. The Carrboro Police Department made 30,528 stops and 2,010 searches in that time.

Black drivers accounted for 24 percent of Chapel Hill stops and 22 percent of Carrboro stops, the study found, while the black population in each town was roughly 10 percent. Rural Orange County stops involved black drivers 26 percent of the time, it found, while the black population was 12 percent.

Roughly 12 percent of black drivers who were stopped in Carrboro had their cars searched, compared to 5 percent of white drivers, the data show. In Chapel Hill, 6 percent of black drivers stopped had their cars searched, compared to 3 percent of white drivers.

Nearly 9 percent of black drivers stopped in rural Orange County had their cars searched, compared to 5 percent of white drivers. The county’s racial disparity between Hispanic and white drivers whose cars were searched was much larger – 21 percent vs. 5 percent – the coalition reported.

The race-based differences in motorist treatment are not unique to Orange County, coalition members said, pointing to Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other places having a similar discussion.

“Justice must start at home,” said Frank Baumgartner, a UNC political science professor involved in the study. “We are calling on our local community leaders to show leadership by looking seriously into these issues and working with community groups to enact meaningful reforms.”

Spotlight on Durham

The city of Durham considered the UNC findings in depth earlier this year as it reflected on bias in the Durham Police Department. The city had sought reviews before by local boards and the U.S. Justice Department’s Diagnostic Center.

Durham now has more than three dozen changes in place or being considered, such as requiring officers to get written permission before searching a car during a traffic stop. The policy doesn’t affect searches carried out with a warrant or when an officer has probable cause to search.

The department also hired a public affairs manager to reach out to the community and completes periodic reviews of police stop, search and arrest data. Police officials have been holding public forums more recently to talk about plans for equipping officers with body cameras.

More to the story

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood joined an NAACP-sponsored panel discussion of policing bias in January.

Carrboro hasn’t had a racial bias or profiling problem, Horton said. If a complaint were filed, the officer accused of violating department policies would be investigated right away, he said, and, if found responsible, be reprimanded or retrained.

“We’re such a small department that if we had an issue, the supervisor would pick up on it pretty quickly,” he said.

Horton also took issue with using population data to compare stops and searches by race. Local residents are very transient, he said, and a majority of Carrboro stops and searches involve drivers from other counties.

The department is trying to compare the study data to its own records, he said, but lacks the staff and skills to do much of what’s requested. Southern Coalition for Social Justice data experts recently showed Carrboro police staff how to access and analyze traffic stop data, the coalition reported.

Chapel Hill started quarterly reviews of each officer’s traffic stops in 2012 as a way to identify any irregularities or patterns. The information collected is compared to local data about race and other demographics, Chief Chris Blue has said, and sometimes to other officers’ reports.

“Personally, I think it is healthy for organizations to build systems that require periodic reviews of all processes, particularly those involving the potential for bias, whether intentional or not,” Blue is quoted as saying in the UNC School of Government’s Indigent Defense Manual Series.

Blue declined to address the coalition’s requests at this time but has said before he understands the community’s frustration. He also agreed previously that the numbers don’t tell the whole story, noting that police sometimes target an area in response to citizen requests.

“Just saying (bias) doesn’t exist doesn’t make it disappear,” Mayor Mark Kleinschdmit said. Chapel Hill police are open to talking about issues and solutions, he said, because the changes underway and being considered will require the community’s support to be successful.

Blackwood said he would respond to the coalition’s requests by the July deadline. The group is free to make his response public at that time, he said, declining to comment further.

Deputies searched the cars of 23 black drivers and 20 white drivers last year, Blackwood said at the January event. It’s common to stop a driver, regardless of race, because they or their cars haven’t been seen in the area before, he said, but deputies do not profile drivers by race.

“We have black officers who are stopping black drivers, and if you asked them (why) it’s because they had a (motor-vehicle violation),” Blackwood said then. “The implication is that we’re stopping black drivers (deliberately), and I just disagree with that.”

While the number of searches may be low, the coalition said, the number appears different when you consider the county’s racial makeup. It’s not the number of traffic stops, Williams said, but what law enforcement is doing in an effort to find contraband.

“Instead of race being used as a descriptor, it’s being used as a predictor” of criminal activity, he said.

Training, changes happening

All local agencies require officers to receive annual diversity and other training. Some officers also attended a recent regional workshop with Lorie Fridell, of the Fair and Impartial Policing group. The “train the trainer” event taught them how to teach bias-free policing techniques to their peers.

Blackwood has emphasized training and resolving bias concerns since being elected last year, Orange County Commissioners Chairman Earl McKee said. The commissioners work closely with the sheriff but do not have a supervisory role, he said.

“The board is concerned that every person in Orange County … receives fair, responsive and responsible treatment when dealing with law enforcement,” McKee said. “I think we’re striving to get better.”

The sheriff’s office already requires deputies to get written consent for searches when there’s no evidence of a crime, Blackwood said at the forum. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are considering the possibility.

Written consent is a good idea, said Kleinschmidt, who is also an attorney. He noted concern about and changes this year in the federal civil forfeiture program, which let officers seize cash and property from individuals without proving a crime has occurred.

Another growing trend is outfitting officers with cameras.

Most Orange County police and sheriff’s vehicles are equipped with cameras. Hillsborough bought body cameras last year for some of its officers, and Chapel Hill is considering the possibility now.

Carrboro’s latest capital projects budget includes $91,000 to buy 42 cameras, enough for each officer and a few replacements. At least 14 cameras will be purchased during the first round, Horton said, expanding eventually to about 35 patrol cars. He has been meeting with Alderman Damon Seils and the ACLU to work out the details, he said.

Marijuana crimes

The coalition also asked local law enforcement to reduce the emphasis on marijuana crimes.

Roughly 47 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in Chapel Hill are black, the coalition reports, and about 44 percent in Carrboro. The number of black people arrested for marijuana possession in rural Orange County was 27 percent.

That’s a concern, coalition members said, because many involve young people, and in North Carolina, 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. A low-level marijuana arrest can become part of a young person’s permanent record, affecting their ability to attend college or get a job.

Carrboro officers can use discretion when they find a small amount of marijuana, Horton, said, but someone with the drug bagged for sale would be arrested. He suggested groups opposed to marijuana laws contact legislators.

“The law is the law. We are sworn to enforce it,” he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

BIAS-FREE SUGGESTIONS

The Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition is asking local law enforcement agencies to adopt 11 proposed solutions to racial bias and profiling:

▪ Identify and change existing policies that result in racially biased policing

▪ Adopt written policies explicitly prohibiting racial profiling

▪ Periodically review officers’ stop, search and arrest data

▪ Require officers to use written consent-to-search forms

▪ Prohibit vehicle stops and searches based solely on a driver’s “nervousness,” “presence in a high crime neighborhood” or “criminal record”

▪ Require dashboard cameras in police cars and body cameras for officers

▪ Make marijuana a low priority

▪ Mandate quarterly race reports to town or county leaders

▪ Mandate racial equity training for all officers

▪ Adopt measures to increase public confidence in how agencies respond to allegations of police misconduct

▪ Increase civilian involvement in law enforcement decisions

Let people vote

SCSJ and partners call on North Carolina to comply with NVRA provisions

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice today took action to ensure that the State of North Carolina meets federal law requirements in providing voter registration opportunities to its citizens who receive public assistance.

Since 1993, federal law requires public assistance agencies administering programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to provide individuals who apply, renews, recertify, or change their address, or otherwise interact with the agency the opportunity and means to register to vote. Specifically, public assistance agencies must distribute voter registration forms, help applicants in filling out the voter registration forms, and accept and accept the completed forms and forward them to appropriate election officials. The purpose of the law is to reduce the burden on low-income individuals or individuals experiencing acute financial distress by eliminating the demand for multiple government interactions to register to vote.

At this time, unfortunately, North Carolina’s public assistance agencies are not fulfilling this obligation, and North Carolina is the worse for their failure. North Carolina must make prompt changes to ensure that the law is properly implemented so that all of its citizens, including the more than one million individuals who receive public assistance, are able to register to vote and participate in elections.

 The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is proud to be working with Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyer’s Committee and to be representing Democracy NC, Action NC, and the NC A. Philip Randolph Institute in this matter. We hope to work cooperatively with the NCBOE and DHHS to develop a plan for bringing North Carolina into compliance with the law, without litigation, as has successfully been done with North Carolina previously as well as with other states. But we will do whatever it takes to make sure that every North Carolinian has the opportunity to participate in the political process.

Read the letter SCSJ and partner organizations sent to North Carolina Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach today.

banthebox

‘Second Chance’ laws sought

— Advocates for people with criminal records are calling for changes to state laws they say make it nearly impossible for former convicts to become productive members of society once they’ve finished their sentences.

In the weeks leading up to crossover, state lawmakers moved a series of bills that would make small changes to expunction laws and facilitate re-entry. But two of the biggest proposals didn’t get hearings at all.

One, House Bill 399, would raise the age for some adult crimes from 16 to 18 years old. It is not subject to crossover because it appropriates money. It has bipartisan support. The other, House Bill 612, known as “Ban the Box,” would have directed state and local governments to stop using a job application question about an applicant’s criminal record as an automatic disqualification for further consideration. It did not have bipartisan support, and it did not survive the crossover deadline.

Still, Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that they intend to continue the fight to help make it easier for people with criminal records to find employment.

“These are people with unfavorable backgrounds who need another chance, who need an opportunity to get back into their communities,” said Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, the sponsor of “Ban the Box.” “We do believe in a second chance because all of us, if truth be told, have had some second chances in life.”

Former prosecutor Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, stressed that he believes in consequences for crimes, adding, “it’s possible to go too far, it’s possible to destroy people’s lives for no good reason.”

“It used to be that the worst part of being convicted of a minor criminal offense was you’d have to spend a few days in jail. Now, that’s dwarfed by the long-term financial consequences that keep people from being able to provide for themselves,” Jackson said. “Look at the economic cage we’ve locked them into. Ask yourself if there isn’t a more reasonable approach.”

In 2011, Durham became the first city in North Carolina to “ban the box” on job applications. Daryl Atkinson, senior attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

In 2011, 2.3 percent of hires in Durham city government were people with past criminal records. In 2012, it was 4.4 percent, rising to 9 percent in 2013 and 15 percent in 2014.

“The sky didn’t open up and rain down plagues,” Atkinson said, adding that the city has seen “no increases in workplace crime, and none of those folks have been terminated because they’ve committed an offense.”

Atkinson stressed that not every job is appropriate for someone with a felony record, but he said in many instances employers are using a criminal record of any kind as a blanket disqualifier for any job.

“They’re not making that individual assessment to see if there’s a direct relationship between the underlying record and the job,” he said, noting that Koch Industries recently banned the box on applications for all its subsidiaries and calling it “the moral thing to do.”

About 1.6 million North Carolinians – roughly one out of six – have criminal records. Across the country, some 700,000 inmates will be released from prisons every year for the next 10 years, a higher number than ever before.

“When we think about the turmoil that’s going on around the country, one of the common denominators is communities feeling shut out of opportunity,” Atkinson said.

Re-entry advocate Dennis Gaddy agreed.

“If you make it hard to do the right thing, you make it easy to do the wrong thing,” Gaddy said.

This story was written by Laura Leslie and was published to WRAL.com’s NCCapitol blog on Tuesday, May 5, 2015