As Urged by SCSJ, North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Directs AG’s Office to Move to Quash Overbroad ICE Subpoenas

RALEIGH, N.C. – Today, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement unanimously agreed to direct the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to take all necessary steps to quash the vague, burdensome and potentially illegal subpoenas that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern North Carolina served in the last week on the State Board and 44 county boards of elections.

Yesterday, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) submitted to the State Board and its staff an extensive legal memo (http://bit.ly/SubpoenaMemo) providing analysis in support of a move to quash the subpoenas. The State Board also received a supplemental letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich (https://www.scribd.com/document/388011810/Subpoena-Response-US-Attorney#from_embed) offering to retract the original request for cast ballots, which did not fundamentally alter the legal and ethical problems associated with the unprecedented scope of the original subpoenas.

“We commend the State Board for taking steps to defend the privacy interests of North Carolina voters and to prevent likely unlawful fishing expeditions by the federal government that tends to fuel voter suppression and intimidation efforts,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “North Carolina’s voters can participate in this election with confidence that their State Board of Elections will not shrink from their duty to protect the secrecy of their ballots. And we genuinely hope that the Department of Justice and ICE will get the message that we will not allow anyone to declare open season on North Carolina voters.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information in Apparent Fishing Expedition, Undermining 2018 Election Administration

 

 

RALEIGH, N.C.– Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

 

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  See: http://bit.ly/ICEAttachment

 

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.  We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

 

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.  Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.  Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

 

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

 

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SCSJ files petition where local election certification is unlawfully overturned

WINTERVILLE, N.C. – Mr. Ricky Hines won a seat on the Winterville Town Council in November’s election.  However, at the urging of the staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections staff, the Pitt County Board of Elections uncertified the election results and ordered that incumbent John Hill retain his seat despite losing the election to Mr. Hines. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed a petition in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of Hines on December 20, requesting that the court honor the election certification and award Hines his seat on the town council.

“This election was certified and state law does not allow a local board of elections to revoke that certification once it has been granted,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the attorney representing Ricky Hines.   

Hines’ margin of victory was one vote.  His election was made official when the Pitt County Board of Elections issued him a certificate of election on November 27.

The weekend after the canvass, it was discovered that a street that was eventually to be annexed into the town of Winterville, but was not yet within the town limits, had been improperly geocoded and ten voters on that street had been given ballots to vote in the municipal election even though their residences were not yet part of the town.

Mr. Hill requested a recount which occurred on November 21, 2017, with the same result: Richard Hines defeating incumbent John Hill by one vote.

Multiple news outlets covered the recount and the geocoding error.  Articles appeared in the Greenville Daily Reflector, WNCT, and WITN. Mr. Hill, or any Winterville resident, could have filed an election protest on or before November 22, 2017.  No protest was filed.

With no protest pending, the Chair of the Pitt County Board of Elections, Patrick Nelson, issued a certificate of election to Mr. Hines on November 27, 2017.

“The geocoding error was well known, it was reported widely in the press, and every Winterville resident had the opportunity to file a protest. Overturning the election and circumventing the process now is wrong,” stated Allison Riggs.

On the morning of December 6, 2017, nine days after the County Board issued the certificate of election to Mr. Hines, staff at the NC State Board of Elections called the director of the Pitt County Board of Elections and informed him that because the geocoding error could have affected the outcome of the election, the county board had wrongly certified the election results.  They instructed the County Board to convene in an emergency meeting, request a new election, and revoke the certification of election issued to Hines.

“I thought we were done once the election was certified.  Important decisions are being made on town council right now.  What’s happening now is undermining the ability of voters in Winterville to have their certified representative govern.  That is unacceptable and undemocratic,” concluded Ricky Hines.

The petition filed in Wake County Superior Court can be found at http://bit.ly/WintervillePetition

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Dr. Kareem Crayton Hired as Interim Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

DURHAM, N.C. – The Board of Directors for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) has hired Kareem Crayton, J.D., Ph.D. to serve as the interim executive director as the organization conducts a search for a full-time director.  Anita Earls, the organization’s current executive director and founder, is stepping down from her position at the end of the year to run for a seat on the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

 

Dr. Crayton’s employment with the civil rights organization will start on January 1, 2018.

 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Kareem Crayton be a part of this transition,” said Farad Ali, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors.  “In the 10 years since our founding, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has become one of the premier civil rights organizations in our country.  We are committed to moving forward, and Dr. Crayton is the right person to help us do just that.”

 

Dr. Crayton is an internationally respected scholar, expert, and consultant whose work centers on the intersection of law, politics, and race. He is the only academic in the United States in law and political science whose primary work explores the relationship between race and politics in representative institutions. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Crayton is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science as well as a law degree from Stanford University.  Aside from managing a consulting firm, Dr. Crayton has most recently served on the faculty of Vanderbilt University Law School.

 

“The  Southern Coalition for Social Justice is vital to defending the civil rights of marginalized communities in the South,” said Dr. Kareem Crayton.  “Having worked with this organization over the years as a partner, I know the key role SCSJ plays in making our governing institutions more accountable and responsive.  I am therefore excited to lead the board, staff, and our community partners through this phase and to make sure we continue this important work well into the future.”

 

Anita Earls, SCSJ’s current director, praised the board’s decision. “Kareem brings great insight to our organization. His deep knowledge of issues related to race, politics, and the South will be an incredible asset to the coalition,” said Earls.  “I am comforted to know that Dr. Crayton will be taking charge of the organization I founded and love.”

 

“There is no way that SCSJ would have accomplished everything we have without the leadership of Anita Earls.  We are thankful for and will certainly miss her leadership,” said Farad Ali.   “Our work moves forward, though.  We will continue to challenge unconstitutional racial and partisan gerrymandering that disenfranchises people and communities of color.  We will persist in our advocacy for reforming the criminal justice system, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and creating fairer and safer schools for our youth.

 

SCSJ supports call to remove Confederate monuments, memorials, and flags at the courthouses in North Carolina

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has signed onto a resolution drafted by the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System that calls for the immediate removal of all Confederate monuments, memorials, flags, and other symbols and markers of racism and white supremacy, from all public spaces inside or outside of courthouses in the state.

The resolution recognizes that “visible and systemic markers of racism and white supremacy, including those commemorating the Confederacy, were erected outside courthouses and centers of government power specifically to reclaim those public spaces for the unjust causes the markers and symbols represent.”

While there is currently a state law prohibiting the removal of divisive symbols of racism and injustice, the resolution calls upon the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the 2015 statute.

You can read the full resolution here:

 

NCCRED Resolution by Dustin on Scribd

SCSJ joins call for more diversity within the Federal Reserve

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is among the 32 community groups that sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen calling for greater diversity, representation, and fairness within the nation’s central banking system.   Other signatories include the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Action NC and 27 others.

The request points out that “[t]he Federal Reserve will be strengthened by having Presidents and members of Boards of Directors whose experience and expertise better reflect the large segments of our economy and our population that are not proportionally benefiting from economic growth. Ensuring that these perspectives are represented within the Fed is a critical way to prepare the Fed for the challenges and opportunities in our economic future. When the voices of people of color, women, and those with backgrounds from labor and non-profits are excluded, their interests are often neglected.”

In hopes of building an economy that is fairer and more representative for all of our communities, we hope Chair Yellen heeds the call.  You can read the full letter below.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Welcoming the ‘most vulnerable’

This editorial appeared in The Herald-Sun on Sunday, March 8, 2015.

More than 2,100 unaccompanied immigrant children have been placed with sponsors – often family members – in North Carolina, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee and Resettlement.

North Carolina is one of the “highest receiving states” for such children, estimated to total more than 57,000 nationwide, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee reported on the left-leaning ThinkProgress website in January.

These children – placed temporarily with sponsors while awaiting decisions by immigration courts – are “the most vulnerable of the voiceless,” George Eppsteiner of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote in an opinion piece in The News and Observer last September. They “often are escaping insurmountable poverty and violence in their home countries.”

We are a compassionate society. We would almost universally, you would think, rally to the cause of supporting and welcoming these children.

Sadly, in many North Carolina communities, just the opposite reaction is being openly voiced by government bodies or is implicit in obstacles and delays that confront those children as they attempt to enroll in school. That reaction ignores state law that says any child – regardless of immigration status – is entitled to public education in their home school district.

Boards of commissioners in Rowan, Brunswick and Surry counties have passed resolutions objecting to such enrollment. The social justice coalition has filed federal civil rights complaints against Buncombe and Union county school districts for denying enrollment to unaccompanied immigrants.

Given those sentiments, it is welcome – and reassuringly unsurprising – that Durham is taking the opposite tack and forthrightly welcoming the estimated 300 such children here. 

The Durham City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging local government departments to serve those children and thanking the school district for enrolling them. Monday, the school board unanimously and swiftly adopted a similar resolution. 

“We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values,” board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said. 

Eppsteiner was among those who spoke at Monday’s meeting.  The board’s support is important, he said, “because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in … other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

The board heard from Alex Herrera, a Riverside High School junior who migrated from Honduras when he was 7. 

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this year we have tried to tutor them,” he told the board. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need the extra help from you.”

We’re proud to be in a community where that extra help is willingly extended, instead of meanly denied.

School board supports migrant children issue

This story was written by Gregory Childress and was originally published in The Herald-Sun on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

DURHAM-The school board has adopted a resolution reaffirming its support of more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

The resolution was on the board’s consent agenda during a rare Monday night school board meeting held to make up for one missed last Thursday due to recent winter storms that dumped several inches of ice, sleet and snow on the Triangle.

Being placed on board’s consent agenda means an item will likely be approved.

“We are so committed to this cause that it’s on our consent agenda,” said school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter. “We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values.”

The Durham City Council has also adopted a resolution pledging its support for unaccompanied migrant children.

Although the school board was expected to unanimously approve its resolution — and did, 7-0 — more than a dozen people attended Monday’s meeting to show their support.

One of them, Alex Herrera, a junior at Riverside High School, who migrated to the U.S., from Honduras at age 7, told the board that he knows well the hardships faced by the more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

“I still have family over there that tell me about the hardship, the poverty, the crime,” said Herrera, a member of the Latino Parent-Student Council Coalition.

School officials have said many of the children traveled to the U.S., alone and arrived with myriad problems, including gaps in their education, emotional trauma from abuse and other such problems that require extra resources.

Herrera said those problems don’t stop once the children reach the U.S.

“Now, they’re here and they’re struggling,” Herrera said. “They have increased in great numbers and they are visible in Durham Public Schools.”

Herrera said the school district is also struggling under the influx of the new students.

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this school year we have tried to tutor them,” Herrera said. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need that extra help from you.”

In October, school officials reported that DPS was serving 282 such children, primarily from the Latin American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The largest concentrations of unaccompanied migrant children were at Riverside High (55) and Jordan High (42). The next largest concentration was at Githens Middle School (35) and Creekside Elementary (28).

George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said Durham is one of the largest jurisdictions in the state that has agreed to receive unaccompanied minors.

“It’s critical for this board to send a message that these children are welcome and will be supported in Durham Public Schools,” Eppsteiner said. “The reason that’s important is because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in other local government jurisdictions and other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

Eppsteiner said the law, in fact, mandates that such migrant children be supported in the communities they reside.

He cited a more than 30-year-old Supreme Court in which the justices ruled against a Texas school district that tried to deny undocumented youth access to a free public school education.

“The Supreme Court said there is actually more harm in preventing these kids from accessing public education because the schoolhouse plays such a key role in their development,” Eppsteiner said.

Herrera said the decision to adopt the resolution will go far in showing the students that the board considers them important members of the school district.

“We are glad that this is not an issue that is being put to the side,” Herrera said. “Many times that is what happens when it doesn’t apply to our lives or it doesn’t affect us directly. You have taken into the account the importance of it. They are coming to the schools and that’s the first place that’s going to impact them. That’s the first place they learn the language and learn how the school system works.”

And regardless of whether the students remain in the U.S., Herrera said their experience here will follow them for a lifetime.

“That’s what’s going to help them out through life no matter [whether] they stay in this country of if they have to leave,” Herrera said. “Schools are the place where they start and it’s where they get the good or bad influence.”

Public support increases for immigrant children in North Carolina

In keeping with its commitment to address issues of racial equity in education, SCSJ is continuing to work to help empower the immigrant community in the Triangle to protect the human and educational rights of their children. In active cooperation with immigrant students, teachers, public officials, and community leaders and activists dedicated to advancing the interests of the immigrant community, SCSJ has successfully worked to pass welcoming resolutions for immigrant children in the Triangle. These strongly worded statements of support explicitly recognize that immigrant children are important members of the community, that they should be afforded legal representation at immigration proceedings (children are not guaranteed the right to an attorney in immigration proceedings), and that they have an absolute right to attend public schools.  Since November 2014, a growing number of municipal bodies have passed such resolutions to express their support for equal access to education for all students, regardless of immigration status.

Most recently, the Durham Public School Board of Education passed a resolution on March 2, 2015 to support immigrant children, including those who travel alone to the United States to escape violence and extreme poverty.  In a remarkable act of recognition for the dozens of community members who attended in support of the resolution, each member of the School Board read paragraphs of the resolution aloud. Board Chair Heidi Carter further commented that the Board’s action “is just the right thing to do.”

The sixth such action since November 2014, the Durham Public School Board resolution adds significantly to the growing momentum of support for immigrant children in the Triangle. Similar statements were passed by the Durham City Council (1/5/15), the Orange County Board of Education (1/12/15), the Chapel Hill Town Council (12/3/14), the Orange County Board of Commissioners (12/1/14), and the Carrboro Board of Alderman (11/18/14).

SCSJ hopes to continue to work with communities in North Carolina to pass resolutions that are supportive and empowering of the immigrant community in 2015 and beyond.