House Districts in Wake County Found Unconstitutional

Districts ordered to be redrawn in the next regular legislative session for use in 2020

 

 

RALEIGH – A three-judge state court panel today issued a unanimous ruling declaring four state House Districts in Wake County to be unconstitutional.  The panel agreed that the unnecessary redrawing of state House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41 violated the North Carolina Constitution’s prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. The order instructs the legislature to remedy the unconstitutional districts in their next regular session for use in the 2020 general election.

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented plaintiffs in NC NAACP v. Lewis.  Plaintiffs included NC NAACP,  League of Women Voters of NC, Democracy NC, A. Philip Randolph Institute of NC, and four individual Wake County voters.

 

The three-judge panels’ order can be found at http://bit.ly/NAACPvLewisOrder

 

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, issued the following statement after the court’s ruling:

 

“Once again, a court has rebuked the North Carolina General Assembly, finding the legislature’s repeated acts of political gamesmanship in the redistricting process to be unconstitutional. For almost this entire decade, legislative leaders have done everything they can to avoid fair elections and accountability to the voters.  This decision brings us closer to the day that, for the first time this decade, the voice of the voters and not politicians’ illegal manipulations will determine the outcome of elections.”

 

 

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Video Series Highlights Voters Who Could be Impacted by Voter ID Requirements

 

DURHAM, N.C. – Five videos released today by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are the first installment of a campaign that’s aimed at educating voters about who may be disenfranchised if a state constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote is approved in this November’s election.  The “What’s at Stake” video series highlights the stories of North Carolinians who faced hurdles during the 2016 primary election when photo ID was required.  Some were either turned away for lack of the ID or forced to cast a provisional ballot that was never counted. Others would be unable to vote in future elections if state-issued photo identification is required.

 

The videos showing what’s at stake are available at scsj.org/videos

 

“We know that at well over 1,000 people were denied their right to vote in the 2016 primary because of the photo ID requirement,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Since the legislature has not yet made it known which ID’s they will permit in future elections, voters are being asked to give lawmakers a blank check on determining who would be allowed to vote in future elections and who would be disenfranchised. North Carolinians deserve better than that.”

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented plaintiffs who successfully challenged the voter suppression law passed by the General Assembly in 2013 that included a photo ID requirement.  The organization’s campaign to educate voters about the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot includes personal stories from:

 

  • Daniel Smith, a Concord resident whose vote was not counted in 2016 because he only had a temporary license when voting in the 2016 primary while he was waiting for his renewed license to be mailed to him;

 

  • Jabari Holmes, a 42-year-old from Wendell who has severe cerebral palsy who has had difficulty obtaining a photo ID and would not be allowed to vote in future elections if photo ID is required;

 

  • Mina Ezikpe, who registered to vote while a student at Duke University and was turned away from the polls without casting a ballot in 2016 for lacking North Carolina issued identification;

 

  • Paul Kearney, a Warrenton resident forced to cast a provisional ballot that was not counted in the 2016 primary for not having his identification with him despite knowing everyone who was working in the polling place that day; and,

 

  • Jaden Peay, an out-of-state sophomore at North Carolina Central University who volunteers to register other students to vote but only has his South Carolina driver’s license and school identification card, making it unlikely that he would be able to vote in future elections.

 

The Southern Coalition will add more stories to the project between now and Election Day.  The videos will be shown at community meetings and town hall discussions about the amendments and will be promoted through sponsored social media posts to inform targeted groups of voters.

 

“Regardless of the rules put in place to implement a photo identification requirement, the result is going to be that some eligible voters are going to be denied their right to participate in our democracy,” added Allison Riggs. “We hope that sharing these stories will help voters see this proposal for what it really is, the newest chapter in a long line of voter suppression efforts.”

 

The videos and individual stories can be found at scsj.org/videos.

Civil Rights Organizations Urge U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session to Withdraw Subpoenas for Massive Amount of Voter Records and Information

DURHAM, N.C. – A coalition of national, regional, and state-based civil rights organizations has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging the withdrawal of recently issued subpoenas in North Carolina that sought millions of voter records in the state.  The letter makes it clear that the subpoenas:

  • Target people of color, immigrants, and low-income communities in the state in a manner that would intimidate most reasonable people;
  • Should not be used as part of a fishing expedition;
  • Seek voter information that must remain protected according to well-established law; and,
  • Have already interfered with the regular preparation for upcoming elections.

“It’s clear that these subpoenas are a fishing expedition that aims to intimidate voters of color in North Carolina,” stated Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Americans should have the peace of mind to know that when they cast their ballot, it is not going to examined by government officials in a way that discloses personally identifying information and how they voted.  This effort not only undermines the privacy interests of voters, it also eliminates a crucial element of every free and fair election — the secrecy of the ballot.”

 

Organizations that signed onto the letter include:

  • Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Democracy North Carolina
  • North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP
  • North Carolina Justice Center
  • Common Cause North Carolina
  • NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • NALEO Educational Fund
  • Demos
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

 

Noteworthy excerpts from the letter:

  • “We are deeply concerned that these excessive discovery demands are intended to amplify the incredibly few examples of voting irregularities that actually exist within the voting process and to falsely manufacture a perception that massive voting fraud has occurred in this State. We believe that any such ‘evidence’ is intended to be used as a basis for justifying future voter suppression efforts.” (1)
  • “The extremely broad and unprecedented subpoenas extend far beyond the scope of any legitimate law enforcement objective and threaten voters’ constitutional right to cast a ballot free from fear and intimidation as well as their expectation that their personally identifiable information and their voting preferences will remain private in accordance with the law.” (1)
  • “Indeed, neither an informally negotiated revision of these subpoenas nor formal legal action by the State of North Carolina in fighting the subpoenas would be adequate to address the lasting damage your actions would pose to a free and fair election in this state.” (1)
  • “Given the State’s recent voting rights history and the lived experiences of voters of color, these voters will surely find the fact that the ICE Subpoenas target their region, while offering no explanation for doing so, to be both ominous and intimidating.” (2)
  • “Nothing about the language that an individual speaks or uses to fill out forms creates any reason to believe that a crime has been committed, voting related or otherwise, and any suggestion to the contrary is discriminatory and intimidating.” (2)
  • “The ICE Subpoenas would not only revive the threat of government-sanctioned voter intimidation, but they would ironically destroy what has been an essential protection against election fraud. For these reasons, subpoenaing the voting records of millions of North Carolinians is unreasonable and oppressive, and the demand for cast ballots must be withdrawn in its entirety.” (3)

 

The full text of the letter is available below and can be viewed as a PDF at http://bit.ly/LetterToDOJ

Full text of the letter:

September 26, 2018,

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

Deputy and Acting Director Ron Vitiello

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th St., SW

Washington, D.C. 20536

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Director Vitiello,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write to strongly request that your agencies immediately cease efforts to subpoena millions of North Carolina voter records in what we believe is an unjustified and likely unlawful fishing expedition. We are deeply concerned that these excessive discovery demands are intended to amplify the incredibly few examples of voting irregularities that actually exist within the voting process and to falsely manufacture a perception that massive voting fraud has occurred in this State. We believe that any such “evidence” is intended to be used as a basis for justifying future voter suppression efforts.

 

In North Carolina recently, representatives of your agencies, only weeks before a major election, issued at least 46 subpoenas seeking millions of state voters’ records. We strongly urge you to immediately withdraw the federal subpoenas which were issued on August 31, 2018, by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich for the Eastern District of North Carolina and directed to the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, the County Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in the North Carolina’s Eastern District, and the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (hereinafter, “ICE Subpoenas”). The extremely broad and unprecedented subpoenas extend far beyond the scope of any legitimate law enforcement objective and threaten voters’ constitutional right to cast a ballot free from fear and intimidation as well as their expectation that their personally identifiable information (hereinafter, “PII”) and their voting preferences will remain private in accordance with the law. Further, given the massive redactions necessary to avoid complete disregard for voters’ rights and the law, responding to these ICE Subpoenas would interfere with the duties of North Carolina’s election officials at any point in any election cycle. The requested ICE Subpoenas will seriously hinder North Carolina election officials’ ability to provide free and fair elections and follow through with the state’s mandate to enhance election security against foreign interference. The apparent concession by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which extended the deadline for responses to the subpoenas until January, does not resolve the underlying issue with the legality or propriety of the subpoenas.  Indeed, neither an informally negotiated revision of these subpoenas nor formal legal action by the State of North Carolina in fighting the subpoenas would be adequate to address the lasting damage your actions would pose to a free and fair election in this state.

 

The ICE Subpoenas became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted on Twitter. The subpoenas, which were directed to 44 of North Carolina’s eastern counties, 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.” The subpoenas directed to the State Board of Elections and NC DMV demand documents including all voter registration, early voting, provisional voting, and absentee ballot request forms over an even longer period—from January 1, 2010 through August 30, 2018. These blanket demands for information on individual voters would have required state election officials to compile more than 15 million voting records, within 60 days before a statewide election. Delaying the compliance deadline for these subpoenas until after the November 2018 election does not ease the burden on North Carolina election officials to redact all of the PII that they would be required to redact under state law, nor does it ensure that the redaction of this data that would not connect the individual voters to their official executed ballots, a problem that would exist with every early voting ballot, absentee ballot, or provisional ballot cast in the state.

 

The Subpoenas Target People of Color, Immigrants and Low Income Communities

 

The Eastern District of North Carolina, the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary system at issue here, is comprised of 44 counties. While the region includes only 39% of North Carolina’s voters, nearly 70% of North Carolina’s Native American voters and 46% of its Black voters live in this district. Additionally, of these 44 counties, the majority experience a poverty rate between 15 and 30%, making it the most concentrated region of low-income communities in the state. The region’s communities of color have experienced a long history of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, including the ninety-year period during which official voting discrimination and physical violence prevented any person of color from being elected as a part of North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Given the State’s recent voting rights history and the lived experiences of voters of color, these voters will surely find the fact that the ICE Subpoenas target their region, while offering no explanation for doing so, to be both ominous and intimidating.

The subpoena directed toward the North Carolina DMV is even more concerning in this regard.  It specifically seeks information on individuals who filled out forms at the DMV in a language other than English.  Nothing about the language that an individual speaks or uses to fill out forms creates any reason to believe that a crime has been committed, voting related or otherwise, and any suggestion to the contrary is discriminatory and intimidating.

 

The Subpoenas Seek Voter Information that Must Remain Protected

 

The ill-considered ICE Subpoenas seek millions of cast ballots, along with absentee and provisional voter documents that would allow ICE to penetrate the sacrosanct veil of ballot secrecy and reveal many voters’ individual choices in past elections. In a September 6, 2018 letter to the General Counsel of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keilmanovich tellingly admitted that the obtaining the records of votes cast was “not relevant to our inquiry.” He nonetheless continued to demand that the documents be produced, with redactions. In other words, the purported compromise position following the initial outrageous demand was for state officials to devote time and resources to making millions of redactions in service to an ICE demand for information that it never had the authority to make and, apparently, never wanted in the first place.  It is the duty of your office and you, as chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government, to ensure that subordinate agents are not acting beyond the scope of their authority or in a manner that would interfere with the administration of elections and have an intimidating effect on voters.

 

To be clear, ballot secrecy—the right of citizens to cast a secret ballot, without fear of retaliation—came about because of a “persistent battle against two evils: voter intimidation and election fraud.”Burson v. Freeman, 504 U.S. 191, 206 (1992). The ICE Subpoenas would not only revive the threat of government-sanctioned voter intimidation, but they would ironically destroy what has been an essential protection against election fraud. For these reasons, subpoenaing the voting records of millions of North Carolinians is unreasonable and oppressive, and the demand for cast ballots must be withdrawn in its entirety.

 

The Subpoenas Have Already Interfered with Upcoming Elections

 

As stated above, the amount and types of data demanded by the ICE Subpoenas is unprecedented and massive. The Subpoenas demand detailed information about voting records that include millions of cast ballots that would provide sufficient information to allow ICE to identify not only the choices made on each ballot, but the identity of the specific individual who cast it.  This fact alone should chill any member of a democratic society.

 

North Carolina election officials have already explained, in public meeting, that these incredibly sweeping subpoenas have required an overwhelming amount of their time during a period when their heightened attention is normally required to ensure that the upcoming election is conducted smoothly and securely.  Indeed, because of recent state legislative decisions relating to the content and form of the November ballots that have delayed their development and production, elections officials are already working on a significantly truncated calendar as they seek to manage the fast approaching statewide election. These subpoenas are not only unnecessary and unjustified, but they also have already harmed preparations for the upcoming election and voters’ confidence in it.  As a result of these Subpoenas, thousands of North Carolinians have expressed their concern about having their private voting records and PII turned over to the federal government without reason.  They have not only called upon the State Board of Elections to reject these requests, but are also demanding that U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon withdraw the originally issued subpoenas.

 

In the name of public confidence in the legitimacy of your agencies and the U.S. Constitution’s commitment to protect against voter intimidation and election interference, we strongly request that you quickly and fully repudiate the actions of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, taken on behalf of ICE, and  that these unprecedented subpoenas be withdrawn immediately.

 

The U.S. Attorney Should Not Use Grand Jury Proceedings as Fishing Expeditions

 

The aforementioned background and peculiar timing of this action strongly suggest that it is a cynical ploy to seek support for the same specious voter fraud narrative that was used to justify the creation of the defunct Pence-Kobach Commission. To many observers, there seems to be more than a passing similarity between the discredited agenda of the disbanded Commission and the unprecedented and broad interest of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina into the content of state voting records

 

The review of the requested millions of documents in search of perhaps a handful of individual technical violations of voting laws would also undoubtedly entail a massive commitment of federal resources that might otherwise be used to investigate and prosecute crimes that actually pose a threat to the people of North Carolina. Neither your office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office has made any showing in the public record to justify the scope of these subpoenas, which seek information on millions of voters, nor does it justify the need for an indiscriminate investigation of every vote cast during the designated time period. In the North Carolina State Board of Elections’ Post-2016 Election Audit Report, the board rejected the proposition that participation by ineligible voters was rampant in North Carolina; instead it concluded that in the very few instances where voting irregularities occur, “[m]ost incidents are isolated and uncoordinated, and detecting technical violations does not always prove purposefully unlawful conduct.”  Your agencies have a duty and a responsibility to properly use the power of the federal grand jury system, and to not abuse that power in the process.

 

We the undersigned request that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ICE immediately instruct their agents to withdraw these subpoenas.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Allison Riggs atallisonriggs@southerncoalition.org or 919-323-3909.

 

Sincerely,

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Democracy North Carolina

North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

North Carolina Justice Center

Common Cause North Carolina

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

NALEO Education Fund

Demos

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

 

Cc: Robert J. Higdon, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the E.D.N.C

 

 

Know Your Voting Rights – Post Hurricane Florence

In the wake of natural disasters, voters frequently get displaced from their homes. That does not mean that these voters lose their right to vote and have their political voices heard. Survivors of Hurricane Florence who have been forced from their homes because of the storm and subsequent flooding have several options available to them to vote this November.

Information about your voting rights is below.  Click here to download a PDF of our Know Your Voting Rights Flier.

1. Voters who have temporarily left their homes and intend to eventually return to the address where they are registered to vote can vote by no-excuse absentee ballot mailed to your temporary address.

  • Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot by submitting an absentee ballot request form in-person or by mail, fax, or email to their county board of elections by 5:00 pm on October 30.
  • The absentee ballot request form can be found here: http://bit.ly/NCAbsentee
  • The completed absentee ballot and return-container envelope, signed by 2 witnesses over age 18 or a notary, must be postmarked or delivered in-person by 5:00 pm on Election Day, November 6.

 

2. Voters who have temporarily left their homes and intend to eventually return to the address where they are registered to vote can also vote during Early Voting or on Election Day in their home county if they have access to transportation and a safe route to the polls.*

  • Voters can vote at any one-stop early voting location in their county from October 17–November 3.
  • Early-voting locations and hours can be found here: http://bit.ly/OneStopVoting
  • Voters can also vote at their assigned “home” precinct on Election Day, November 6, from 6:30 am – 7:30 pm.

 

3. Voters whose homes have been seriously or permanently damaged, are unsure as to whether they will ever be able to return, and intend to remain indefinitely at their current location have the right to register to vote at their new place of residence.

  • Voters can register by submitting a voter registration application in-person or by mail to the county board of elections by October 12. The voter registration application can be found here: http://bit.ly/NCRegistration
  • Voters can also register during the early-voting period using same-day registration by bringing proof of residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement, or government document, to any early voting location.

 

 

 

* Some polling places may have been damaged by the hurricane and may be subject to change. If you are uncertain as to which option best applies in your situation, please don’t hesitate to contact the Southern Coalition for Social Justice at 919-321-1848.

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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Plaintiffs Victory in Partisan Gerrymandering Case Shifts Focus Back to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court could hear case in the 2018-19 term in time for new maps in 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina reaffirmed its decision from January striking down the state’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.  The decision in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho was issued after the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court to consider whether or not the plaintiffs had standing to bring the case.  In today’s decision, the lower court confirmed that in the consolidated cases, plaintiffs have standing to challenge each of the 13 congressional districts.  It is expected that today’s decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could hear the case in the upcoming term that begins in October.

Today’s opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymanderingNC

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and 12 individual North Carolina plaintiffs.

“Once again, a bipartisan panel of judges agree that the legislature went too far in its efforts to gerrymander election districts in a way that discriminates against voters based on their political beliefs and predetermines the outcome of elections before a single vote is cast,”said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Elections should have consequences.  Unfortunately, every congressional election in North Carolina so far this decade has deprived the voters of the ability to hold elected officials accountable through the democratic process.  The court recognized that such actions are unconstitutional.  The people of North Carolina deserve better.”

Should the case be heard this term, as expected, North Carolina voters could have fair and legal maps drawn in time to be used in the 2020 elections. The case has the potential to reshape future redistricting nationwide by limiting politicians’ ability to discriminate against voters who favor a minority party as those politicians control the process of drawing electoral districts.

“North Carolina has had one of the most severely gerrymandered maps in modern American history for almost a full decade, and it can no longer stand,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “This fall, North Carolina voters are about to endure their fourth election cycle with a blatantly gerrymandered congressional map. Given the timing, we expect the Supreme Court to hear this case in the upcoming 2018-2019 term. Our clients in North Carolina are ready for a ruling from the Supreme Court that finally declares that voters, not lawmakers, come first.”

A companion case, brought by lead plaintiff Common Cause and others, also moves forward with today’s decision.  The earlier findings by the district court as to the violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were also reiterated today.

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Statement Regarding Alamance County Voters Accused of Voting While Ineligible

GRAHAM, N.C. – Five voters represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) charged with voting while ineligible accepted plea deals to lesser charges in Alamance County Superior Court today.  As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges.

SCSJ clients Anthony Haith, Neko Rogers, Whitney Brown, Keith Sellars and Willie Vinson, Jr. pled to a lesser charge – misdemeanor obstruction of justice.  As part of the plea, the five individuals will each complete 24 hours of community service, be placed on unsupervised probation for 12 months, and offer no admission of guilt to any voting-related charges.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice issued the following statement after the pleas deals were accepted by the court:

“Our clients had to make a hard decision.  They believe that the law they were initially charged under was enacted in 1901 with an intent to discriminate against people of color and intimidate communities from voting.  Such a law is unconstitutional.

“What happened in the courtroom today is nothing new, though.  Far too often, people plead to lesser charges, even when justice is on their side, in order to avoid the possibility of facing time in prison, being separated from their families, losing their jobs, and disrupting their lives and the lives of those around them.  Similar events happen every day in courtrooms across the country.

“Our communities deserve better.  No one should have to face the possibility of prison time for the act of casting a vote that they believed they were eligible to cast. These charges sought to punish people whose only intent was to participate in our democracy.  All of the charges should have been dismissed and the law that led to these prosecutions should be deemed unconstitutional.”

U.S. Supreme Court Again Sides with Plaintiffs Who Brought Racial Gerrymandering Challenge

Most of the court-ordered plan that includes Special Master’s districts to remain in place

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision today, largely affirming a lower court’s ruling in North Carolina v. Covington and upholding most of the court-ordered map with some districts redrawn by a Special Master. The court requested recommendations from a Special Master after plaintiffs successfully challenged the redistricting plan enacted by the state legislature in 2017 on the grounds that racially discriminatory districts still persisted.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld those districts but held that the lower court did not need to determine whether other districts complied with the state constitution.

 

“Thanks to the dedication of the plaintiffs in this case, voters in North Carolina will finally be able to vote in state legislative districts drawn without unconstitutional racial discrimination,”  Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who represents plaintiffs in the case.  “The order from the Supreme Court today sends the message loud and clear that discrimination, even if hidden under a self-proclaimed veil of ignorance, will not be tolerated in the redistricting process.  We’re glad to see the district court’s careful, well-documented findings on this front affirmed.”

 

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found that the 2011 redistricting plan contained 28 racial gerrymanders among its state House and Senate districts.

 

After plaintiffs raised concerns about the remedy redistricting plan enacted by the state legislature in 2017, the three-judge panel appointed an expert Special Master to alter nine state legislative districts the Court identified that failed to adequately remedy the racial discrimination or otherwise violated the state constitution.  The Special Master’s recommendations were incorporated into the state redistricting plan ordered to be enacted by the three-judge panel.

 

On February 6, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the district court’s order. However, the Supreme Court did stay revisions to a small number of districts that violate the state constitution, however.  The districts redrawn by the Special Master to correct racial gerrymandering concerns are in effect for the 2018 state legislative elections.

 

“While it’s unfortunate that this process has dragged on for almost the entirety of the decade–to the great detriment of voters in this state–we’re gratified to be vindicated once again,” stated Allison Riggs. “We’re certain the state courts will correct the state constitutional violations before the 2020 elections, as we already have the trial court in NAACP v. Lewis finding that we are likely to succeed on the merits, but importantly, we have finally achieved our clients’ goals for this litigation: to eradicate the blatantly unconstitutional sorting of voters by race in North Carolina’s state legislative districts.”

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

 

 

Background about this case:

 

On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders.  The decision was issued “per curiam,” meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

 

On July 31, 2017, North Carolina’s Middle District Court ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017, in order to remedy the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The legislature adopted new maps on August 30, 2017.

 

Plaintiffs filed objections to the newly drawn district plans and a hearing was held in front of a three-judge panel in the Middle District of North Carolina on October 12, 2017.

 

On October 26, 2017, the federal panel announced its intention to appoint Dr. Nathaniel Persily to the position of “Special Master” to review the newly adopted redistricting plan and make recommendations to ensure compliance with state and federal law in a few areas of the map where the Court believed the remedial plan was inadequate or otherwise illegal.  Dr. Persily’s appointment became official on November 1, 2017.

 

Dr. Persily issued draft recommended changes to the state’s redistricting plan on November 13, 2017, and solicited feedback from the plaintiffs and defendants.  Both submitted comments.

 

Meeting the deadline set by the three-judge panel, Dr. Persily submitted his final set of recommendations to the district court on December 1, 2017.

 

The three-judge panel heard arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants regarding the Special Master’s plan on January 5, 2018.

 

On January 19, 2018, the three-judge panel ordered that the Special Master’s recommendations be incorporated into the state’s state legislative redistricting plan.

 

On February 6, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the district court’s order. However, the Supreme Court did stay revisions to a small number of districts that violate the state constitution, however.

 

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U.S. Supreme Court Partisan Gerrymandering Ruling’s Impact on North Carolina

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court issued opinions on June 18, 2018, in two partisan gerrymandering cases, Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Besinek v. Lamone (Maryland). The Wisconsin case has been sent back down to the district court to reconsider issues related to standing. The ruling in the Maryland case affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction of a district map before an upcoming election. Both of the rulings can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinion/17

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center represent plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case that has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho (which has been combined with Common Cause v. Rucho), a federal three-judge panel found the state’s U.S. Congressional plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in January 2018 on multiple legal theories of injury.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court issued the opinion in Gill v. Whitford:

“The U.S. Supreme Court did not define any standard today that would be applicable to determining the merits of a partisan gerrymandering claim. Today’s opinions were largely procedural and indicate the Court’s desire to keep the door open for further discussion about partisan gerrymandering. Multiple statements in the opinions indicate that this practice, when it becomes egregious and discriminatory, crosses the line to become unconstitutional.”

“North Carolina remains the most crystal clear example of why a rule creating limits on partisan gerrymandering is so necessary. The record evidence of constitutional injury presented in our case is overwhelming–legislators intentionally cracked and packed millions of North Carolina voters to silence their political voice. We look forward to the opportunity to argue our case on the merits before the U.S. Supreme Court, where we do not have the same procedural issues that prevented a substantive ruling in the cases decided today.”

Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) who argued Whitford v. Gill at the U.S. Supreme Court, issued the following statement about the Whitford decision after today’s ruling:

“When legislators draw voting maps to favor one party over another and to stay in power, voters no longer have a voice in the political process. Extreme partisan gerrymandering is increasingly getting worse – damaging our democracy and eroding voters’ confidence in our system. We will continue advancing efforts, in this case and others as well as through the political process, to end this practice and safeguard every citizen’s fundamental right to vote and have it count.”

 

More about the League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho:

Like in Whitford v.Gill, plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case asked for the same standard to be adopted in their initial complaint filing in September 2016.

Specifically, plaintiffs asked for a three-pronged analysis to determine when partisan discrimination in the redistricting is unconstitutional. That analysis involves a three-part test: (1) showing discriminatory intent; (2) showing discriminatory effect, which can be shown through the use of a measure called the efficiency gap; and (3) showing a map’s imbalance is not justified by a state’s political geography or legitimate redistricting objectives.

In January 2018, a three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District federal court North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Plan that was adopted in February 2016 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. It does so by burdening voters’ freedom of speech and freedom to associate based on their political beliefs, as well as, by treating voters unequally by diluting the electoral influence of one party’s supporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the North Carolina case in January 2018. The lower court’s ruling was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered Whitford v. Gill and Benisek v. Lamone, a partisan gerrymandering case from Maryland.

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