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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

redistricting

U.S. Appeals Court To Hear Wake School Board Redistricting Case

The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging Wake County’s school board election maps.

The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging the 2013 redistricting on behalf of a handful of Wake County residents and two local organizations. They argue that the new districts drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly disfavor urban voters.

‘The Supreme Court has said that the whole purpose of redistricting is to make sure everyone’s vote is treated equally, and this flies in the face of that.’

In 2013, legislators passed a local bill that changed the nine single-member districts to seven single-member districts with two larger districts that divide the county like a donut. Challengers argue the smaller area consists of urban residents, while the larger area comprises rural residents. The say the maps create a 9.8 percent population variation that violates the one-person, one-vote provision.

“The Supreme Court has said that the whole purpose of redistricting is to make sure everyone’s vote is treated equally, and this flies in the face of that,” says Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Riggs argues that those living in overpopulated districts will have less voting power than those in under-populated areas. She also says that the plan will pit candidates who are registered Democrats and support progressive education policies against each other.

“It will create artificial districts that would be more likely to elect candidates not in favor of socioeconomic diversity plans,” says Riggs.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle dismissed the suit earlier this year, arguing that the population disparities are not significant enough to challenge under one-person, one-vote provisions.

He also noted that the discrimination concerns “lead back to politics” and amount to gerrymandering claims, which the courts do not consider unlawful.

Challengers, however, say they’re optimistic that the court of appeals will recognize their claims.

This piece first appeared on WUNC’s radio program and website on December 10, 2014. Listen to WUNC’s full radio interview here.

votes not counted

Votes Not Counted: Mat’s Story

Mat Windsor was denied the right to vote in this election because of a bureaucratic mistake that could not be corrected. Mat did everything right, but because the law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly (H.B. 589) in 2013 to “combat voter fraud” ended same day registration—the ability of voters to register (or to re-register if the voter was incorrectly purged) during early voting – Mat lost his vote.

Mat lives in Dobson, North Carolina in Surry County. He attended Surry Central High School (Class of 2000) and UNC Chapel Hill (Class of 2004). He turned 18 in time for the 2000 presidential election, but didn’t vote in that election. He has regretted that decision, and has been a regular voter since then.

In 2012, Mat was in Australia obtaining a master’s degree in business from the University of Queensland (Class of 2012). He requested a UOCAVA ballot, and voted absentee in that election.

Mat is a property manager, and travels all around the country for work. He flew home specifically to vote early in this election. When Mat went to the early voting center located at 201 E. Kapp Street on Friday, October 31, 2014, he was told that his voter registration had been cancelled because of his 2012 absentee ballot. Mat was further told that registration was closed and he would not be able to register to vote in this election.

Mat never received any communication from the county board of elections that his registration was being cancelled. And his registration should not have been cancelled because he exercised his right to vote using the protections of UOCAVA. This was a mistake on the part of the county board of elections. Mat lost his vote to red tape.

Mat is angry and frustrated.  He learned when he was living in Australia that people all over the world watch how we conduct elections in the United States. And when voters are being excluded unfairly, it reflects badly on this Country.

Mat’s situation could have been corrected if the General Assembly had not repealed same-day registration. The mistake made wasn’t his, and there is no reason that Mat should be disenfranchised. Mat wants everyone to understand that voters are being denied their constitutional rights because of bad decisions being made by Raleigh lawmakers. Mat is sharing his story in order to fight back against bad voting laws.

Each post in SCSJ’s “Votes Not Counted” series tells the story of a person qualified to vote before the passage of North Carolina’s Monster Voter Suppression Law, whose ballot was unjustly denied this year. Below is Mat’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Post by SCSJ Senior Staff Attorney Allison Riggs

Supreme Court Allows North Carolina’s Tighter Voting Rules

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed North Carolina to implement tighter voting rules for the midterm elections, blocking a lower-court ruling that required the state to restore same-day voter registration and count ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

The high court’s action, announced in a brief written order, dealt a blow to the Justice Department and civil-rights advocates who had argued North Carolina’s new voting rules would harm minority voting rights.

The case is one of several that have come to the high court in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Last week the justices shortened the time period for early voting in Ohio, another loss for civil rights advocates. That action came on a 5-4 vote, with conservative justices in the majority.

In another pending case, voting-rights challengers are asking the high court to block enforcement of Wisconsin’s voter identification law.

In the North Carolina case, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, Va., last week held that eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct ballots would disproportionately harm African-Americans, and it prevented the state from enforcing the provisions.

The state in response filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, saying the voting changes imposed by the lower court were “extremely burdensome” and couldn’t be implemented in an orderly manner.

The high court granted the state’s request it be allowed to enforce its voting rules as planned. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Until last year, states that historically discriminated against minority voters were required to clear election procedures with the federal government before implementing them.

In June 2013, however, the Supreme Court struck down those provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finding by a 5-4 vote that social progress over the intervening decades had rendered such federal oversight of state practices unconstitutional.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature then repealed a raft of measures intended to improve voter turnout. The state’s new ban on same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were the only two issues in front of the Supreme Court.

Lower courts already had allowed the state to implement other changes, such as a reduction on early-voting days, while litigation over the state’s voting rules continues.

Challengers to the restrictions said they were disappointed with the decision.

“We asked the courts to keep same-day registration and out of precinct provisional balloting in place for the upcoming election because past experience shows that these measures often correct for errors made by elections officials, not because voters themselves have done anything wrong in their quest to participate in democracy by casting a ballot,” said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said the high court “has ensured this popular and common sense bill will apply to the upcoming election.”

The courtroom battle over North Carolina’s rules has focused partly on how judges should evaluate changes in state voting requirements.

The state said its new rules should be evaluated on their own merits and not judged against the prior regulations. But the Fourth Circuit said it was “centrally relevant” to consider whether North Carolina’s new voting rules would worsen the position of minority voters compared with previous state practices.

This article by Brent Kendall at brent.kendall@wsj.com and Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 8, 2014 at 10:07 p.m. ET

North Carolina scrambles after federal appeals court blocks new voting law

North Carolina officials, scrambling to comply with a court ruling that blocked parts of a restrictive voter law just weeks before the November election, were in federal court on Tuesday to detail a proposed overhaul of their election plans.

North Carolina was ordered to restore provisional ballots and same-day voter registrations last week when a U.S. appeals court found some provisions of a wide-ranging voter law, with restrictions considered among the nation’s most stringent, could disproportionately harm black voters.

State attorneys said they did not anticipate problems bringing back provisional ballots, typically cast by voters who went to the wrong precinct. But they told the court it could be difficult to electronically process voter registrations occurring during early voting.

After the voter law changed, the state’s election software was updated and the same-day feature was not installed, said Alexander Peters, a state attorney. Instead, the plan is now to handle the registration intake manually.

“The feeling is it’s just too late at this stage to risk a problem,” Peters said.

The state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ruling. More than 4 million voter-instruction guides have been mailed explaining the voter law changes.

The state’s Nov. 4 elections include a closely contested U.S. Senate race that could be key in deciding whether Republicans gain control of the chamber.

The North Carolina case is among a series of legal battles over the racial and political impact of states’ changes to election laws.

In its 2-1 decision casting aside parts of the new law, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld several challenged provisions, including a shortened early voting period and the elimination of pre-registration for teenagers.

A key part of the law, requiring voters to show a photo ID, takes effect in 2016.

Allison Riggs, an attorney with the plaintiffs, said the state needed to keep voters apprised of their rights.

“They need to be moving to comply, not waiting for the Supreme Court to rule,” Riggs said at the hearing.

Plaintiffs in the case include voters and the state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

By Ken Otterbourg

This Reuters piece appeared on RawStory on October 7, 2014

(Reporting by Ken Otterbourg; Editing by Letitia Stein and Peter Cooney)

 

NC says it’s making plans to comply with voter law

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. North Carolina is moving ahead with plans to comply with an appeals court ruling that restores same-day registration and counting out-of-precinct ballots for the fall election, a state attorney told a federal judge Tuesday.

But members of civil rights groups that sued to restore the activities told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder the State Board of Elections has to do a better job of letting voters know they will be happening.

The board’s website contains inaccurate information, including that “voters who appear at the wrong precinct won’t have their votes counted,” said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

She said that will cause “confusion among voters.”

“These are things that can be easily changed and should be changed by this afternoon,” she said.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters said the state would update the website Wednesday with new information about same-day registration.

The hearing was held days after Schroeder issued a preliminary injunction to comply with a majority decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that a provision of a new Republican-backed state elections law that would eliminate same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting would disenfranchise minority voters and should be halted for now. The court ruling was in response to lawsuits from the state NAACP and League of Women Voters, among other groups.

Three lawsuits challenging this and other provisions of the new election law are scheduled for a trial next summer.

The injunction means both same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting have been restored — at least for now.

Attorneys representing the state and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene to allow the state to eliminate same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the fall election.

Opponents of the new election law, meanwhile, are urging the high court to block other provisions that would reduce early voting to 10 days and decrease preliminary activities at the polls to prepare voters for a photo identification requirement in 2016.

It’s unclear when the justices will issue a ruling.

Schroeder requested Tuesday’s hearing to see how the state planned to carry out the 4th Circuit’s ruling.

Peters said the state could easily comply with the order to count out-of-district votes. That’s because under the new law – like the old one – those ballots were still going to be tallied anyway. The difference is that under the new law, votes cast in the wrong precinct wouldn’t have counted.

But the other order — handling parts of same-day registration by hand instead of computer — was a little more complicated because boards of elections had disabled a program that took care of that paperwork.

The state was afraid the old program wouldn’t be compatible with upgrades — and that could cause “bugs in parts of the system,” he said.

Riggs disagreed, but added, “our position is it (same-day registration) just needs to happen.”

She said she also had concerns about whether the state was living up to the “spirit of the injunction” because some officials were predicting that same-day registration by hand was going to cause long lines at the polls.

By MITCH WEISS
Associated Press

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/10/07/5225546/judge-wants-nc-to-discuss-voting.html#.VDVKgBZQF6I#storylink=cpy

Appeals court delays N.C. voting changes

Washington Post

October 1 at 7:26 PM
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled Wednesday that two provisions of North Carolina’s election law overhaul in 2013 cannot be enforced during November’s election.The three-judge panel’s ruling reinstates same-day registration and restores out-of-precinct provisional voting.The judges did not reinstate the seven days of early voting that were eliminated by the law adopted last year when Republicans gained control of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office.The ruling came days after the Court of Appeals held oral arguments on an emergency appeal filed in late August by the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, registered Democrats in North Carolina and others.

The hearing was in Charlotte nearly a month after U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder rejected a similar request from the organizations and Democrats challenging the election law’s overhaul.

Schroeder ruled that the challengers failed to make the case that voters would suffer “irreparable damages” if elections were held under the 2013 rules.

But the appeals court judges disagreed with Schroeder on the provisions targeting same-day registration and the ability of voters to cast provisional ballots outside their precincts.

The ruling was quickly praised by voting rights advocates and challengers of the overhaul bill.

“The court’s order safeguards the vote for tens of thousands of North Carolinians. It means they will continue to be able to use same-day registration, just as they have during the last three federal elections,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, added: “This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina. The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation.”

The challengers of the election law overhaul contend that the changes discriminate against African Americans, Latinos and voters younger than 25.

They asked the court to block provisions that end same-day registration, curb the number of days during which people can vote early, prohibit people from casting ballots out of their assigned precincts and drop a popular teen preregistration program.

Republican leaders who shepherded the changes through the General Assembly to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory say they are trying to ward off the potential for voter fraud, although few cases have been brought forward.

The provision of the election law overhaul that requires voters to present a photo ID at the polls does not take effect until 2016, when presidential races will be on the ballot.

North Carolina voters go to the polls Nov. 4 to decide a U.S. Senate race of national interest: the contest between Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from Greensboro, and Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker from Mecklenburg County.

Libertarian Sean Haugh also is seeking the seat.

There also are statewide races that have the potential to shift the political balance in the North Carolina Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit challenging the new election law is not scheduled to be heard in full until a federal court trial, which is set for July 15.

NC: Change in election laws discussed

By Jim Bradley for wsoctv.com

Posted: 6:07 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Elections officials will have to wait to find out if changes to North Carolina’s elections laws passed last year will be put on hold for November’s election.

A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against the changes Thursday.

They’re being asked to issue an injunction temporarily stopping changes from taking effect before a trial on the issue scheduled for next summer.

In 2013, state legislators passed a law cutting early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminating same-day registration and the ability of voters to cast ballots if they go to the wrong precinct.

A group of critics is suing the state to repeal that law and are asking the Appeals Court to put the changes on hold for the November election. “The right to vote is at stake,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

She and others are suing the state argued in court that the changes to early voting and same-day registration will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

“African Americans are 50 percent more likely to use early voting or same-day registration,” said Chris Brook with the North Carolina ACLU. “So not only is it going to harm all North Carolinians, but it’s going to harm those most marginalized persons of our state that might live in poverty. When transportation is an issue you need same-day registration, you need out-of-precinct voting.”

Attorneys defending the law said its changes apply equally to all voters and don’t impose any hardship on minorities.

Sen. Bob Rucho, who helped pass the bill in the N.C. General Assembly, told reporters outside the courthouse, “No harm will occur (to voters) and this election should move forward.”

The judges on the appeals court will decide if voters face ‘irreparable harm’ from the state’s election laws.  If they rule against the state then election rules would revert to the law in effect prior to 2013. That would extend early voting and reintroduce same-day registration and out of precinct voting. Attorneys for the state said that would be a burden for election officials and they would appeal immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A decision from the Appeals Court is expected within a week.

This article originally appeared at wsoctv.com.

NC’s voting battle is headed for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday, September 25, on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and the American Civil Liberties union (ACLU) are challenging provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting.

SCSJ and the ACLU argued the law should be placed on hold until trial next summer —and in time for the midterm elections in November —but a federal district court judge ruled the law could go forward immediately; the ACLU and SCSJ appealed.

“Implementing these provisions prior to the full trial scheduled for summer 2015 would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney Allison Riggs.

We are asking the court to protect the integrity of our elections and safeguard the vote for thousands of North Carolinians by not allowing these harmful provisions to go into effect,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Allison Riggs will present oral arguments in the hearing, along with Penda Hair, Co-Director of the Advancement Project. SCSJ represents the League of Women Voters, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, and other nonpartisan groups and individuals in the case. The Advancement Project represents the North Carolina NAACP, churches, and individuals.

The hearing will take place at the U.S. Courthouse located at 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, NC on September 25, 2014, at 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.

In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.

The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. More information is here: https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/league-women-voters-north-carolina-et-al-v-north-carolina