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Concerns Over Voter Suppression Continue in NC

Concerns Over Voter Suppression Continue in NC

Photo: Elizabeth City State University student Montravias King now serves on City Council. Courtesy: SCSJ

Photo: SCSJ Voting Rights Client Montravias King now serves on City Council. Courtesy: SCSJ

November 4, 2013

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – Local elections take place in 200 towns and cities across North Carolina on Tuesday, and making sure every registered voter is able to cast their ballot is still a concern. Pasquotank County received national attention over an unsuccessful attempt to keep Elizabeth City State University student Montravias King from voting and running for city council.

Staff attorney Clare Barnett, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said she fears efforts to make it difficult for minorities and college students to vote could affect voter turnout across the state on Tuesday.

“If the pattern continues, students who are rightfully entitled to vote – and who are registered to vote – might be intimidated from voting because of the threat of having to come to a state board of election hearing or a local board of election hearing,” Barnett said.

King was ultimately elected to the Elizabeth City City Council. Statewide, Barnett said, there have been efforts to close polling places located on or near college campuses, and to modify district lines to favor Republican lawmakers. In this election, voters are not required to show a photo I.D. at the polls.

The new voter ID law – which is being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and groups including the Southern Coalition for Social Justice – does not take effect until 2016, Barnett explained.

“The new voting law does not go into effect yet, so if you’re voting on Tuesday you do not have to show photo I.D. As long as you have registered to vote, you should be able to vote without a problem in your precinct,” she said.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service – NC

 

From Buncomb to Pasquotank, voter suppression in NC persists

Today’s news is full of stories about a Buncomb County NC elections official forced to resign after making racially inflammatory comments on The Daily Show. While this behavior goes beyond social norms, we must keep in mind that the sentiment is not unique. On the contrary – voter suppression efforts targeting people of color remain strong in many parts of North Carolina.

Pasquotank County North Carolina, home of Elizabeth City State University, has received national media attention in recent months over attempts to keep ECSU student Montravias King from voting and from running for city council because of his on-campus address.  SCSJ successfully represented Montravias King in hearings before the local and State Boards of Elections.

Montravias King, newly elected City Councilman in Elizabeth City NC

Montravias King, newly elected City Councilman in Elizabeth City NC

After the Pasquotank County Board ruled he could not vote or run for office, the State Board reversed that ruling, ensuring that college students throughout North Carolina retain the ability to vote and to run for office in the towns where they go to college. But in Pasquotank County, efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters started long before Montravias King came to ECSU. SCSJ has been representing African Americans trying to participate in the political process in Elizabeth City since 2008. Below is a brief overview of recent efforts to suppress African-American civic participation.

2007 – Elizabeth City Republican Party Chair Pete Gilbert successfully challenged the right to vote of several African-American Elizabeth City State University students who listed the school’s address as their permanent residence.

2008 – Mr. Gilbert challenged the residency of Kirk Rivers, one of 2 remaining African American City Council members in Elizabeth City, NC, after Mr. Rivers won the election against Mr. Gilbert’s wife. SCSJ successfully represented Councilman Rivers.  The Pasquotank County Board of Elections ruled that Mr. Rivers was not a resident of the City, and removed him from office.  On appeal, the North Carolina Superior Court overturned that ruling and he retained his seat on the City Council.  .

Kirk Rivers

Kirk Rivers

2013 – Mr. Gilbert challenged the voting eligibility of over 60 Elizabeth City State University students for using the college as their permanent address.  SCSJ successfully represented three of the students, who retained the right to vote. However, 57 students, some of whom may not have received notice of the hearing, were struck from the voting rolls because they did not  appear at the Pasquotank County Board of Elections hearing to defend their right to vote.  .

2013– Mr. Gilbert challenged Montravias King’s eligibility to run for city council due to his on-campus residence. Mr. Gilbert was successful at the local level, but SCSJ successfully appealed that decision to the State Board of Elections which unanimously overruled the County Board’s decision.

Montravias King with SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett

Montravias King with SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett

While Montravias King’s election to the City Council is cause for celebration, the deeper culture of African-American voter suppression in Elizabeth City is likely to remain. We must be vigilant to ensure that all eligible voters – particularly students and people of color – have equal access to participation in every election. SCSJ has fought for the rights of all voters in Elizabeth City since 2008, and will continue to advocate for the voting rights of all North Carolinians.

Article by SCSJ Communications Intern Madeline Anderson

Montravias King inspires a roadmap for successful voting rights advocacy

On Tuesday, September 3 2013 SCSJ represented Elizabeth City State University senior Montravias King in a hearing before the NC State Board of Elections. Mr. King wanted to run for city council, but the local Board of Elections had ruled that because he lived on-campus he was not eligible. While SCSJ provided the legal representation that led to the State Board of Elections allowing Mr. King to run for city council, that is only part of the story. A much larger social justice community was involved.

Montravias King is no stranger to organizing. As a past president of the Elizabeth City State chapter of the NAACP, he has experience working with others to reach his goals. When Montravias first found out that his candidacy was being challenged, he went to the Pasquotank County NAACP’s Keith Rivers for advice. Mr. Rivers, whose brother Kirk was challenged by the same Republican party chairman when Kirk was elected to the Elizabeth City Council several years ago and prevailed with legal representation from SCSJ, referred Montravias to us. Keith Rivers and Montravias King worked together with ESCU supporters to gather support for Montravias’ right to run for office as an on-campus resident. They also reached out to the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP, which provided advice and support.  Attorney Gerry Cohen wrote an op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer laying out arguments for Montravias’ right to run. At the SBOE hearing, Montravias was surrounded by a crowd of supporters so large that it surpassed the capacity of the building.

Montravias with student supporters from Elizabeth City State University

Montravias with student supporters from Elizabeth City State University

Students from across NC played an important role as well: at the State Board of Elections hearing, college students from several universities gathered for a rally on behalf of student voting rights. From Appalachian State to ECSU, North Carolina’s college students value their right to participate in the electoral process. The rally, coordinated by Rock the Vote and Democracy North Carolina, provided a venue for students to show their concern. These organizations also organized a petition asking the SBOE to support Mr. King’s candidacy and encouraged discussion of the case on their social media pages.

This multipronged approach is central to SCSJ’s model of advocacy. Our mission is to partner with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the south to defend and advance their political, social and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. In the case of Montravias King, SCSJ provided primarily legal advocacy and research, while partner groups across the state provided advice, organizing, and communications support to Mr. King. By working together, individuals and community groups formed a larger movement for voting rights in North Carolina.

Montravias King speaks, surrounded by supporters from SCSJ, Democracy NC, the NC NAACP, and Rock the Vote.

Montravias King speaks, surrounded by supporters from SCSJ, Democracy NC, the NC NAACP, and Rock the Vote.

This movement is continuing to tackle voter suppression at its heart: by opposing the 57-page Voter ID bill signed into law by NC Governor Pat McCrory in August. Just like the Montravias King case, many partners are collaborating to move this larger voting rights agenda. Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of clients such as the NC NAACP (represented by the Advancement Project); the League of Women Voters of NC, the NC A. Philip Randolph Institute, Common Cause NC, and others represented by SCSJ, the ACLU of North Carolina and the national ACLU. In three separate lawsuits these plaintiffs are challenging facets of the new NC voting law including the requirement for a state-issued photo ID, limits to early voting, ending same-day voter registration, and eliminating provisional ballots for people who go to the wrong precinct. In addition to the lawsuits, groups such as Democracy North Carolina and local branches of the NAACP are providing information and advocacy to ensure that all voters know their rights and are able to exercise their right to vote.

In the voting rights movement, we recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of every participant, from national organizations to concerned individuals.  Because each one of us makes a vital contribution. We create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the words of the poet June Jordan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

VICTORY in Montravias King elections hearing

 

On Tuesday September 3, 2013 Montravias King, represented by Southern Coalition for Social Justice staff attorney Clare Barnett, won the right to run for city council in Elizabeth City NC. King was initially barred from running by the Pasquotank County Board of Elections due to his on-campus residence at Elizabeth City State University. The original challenge to King’s eligibility as a candidate was brought by Richard Gilbert, the local Republican Party chair. Montravias King has lived on campus since he started at ECSU in 2009 and has spent most summers living there. He has voted in Pasquotank County for four years using his campus address. His victory was hailed on the September 3, 2013 episode of The Rachel Maddow Show.

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 “Students have a fundamental right to vote in their college community using their dormitory addresses. Because the residency requirements are the same for voters as for candidates, the challenge to Montravias’ candidacy based on the fact that he lives in a dormitory affects all college students across the state,” said King’s attorney, SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett.  “They didn’t have any legal precedent to say that a dormitory can’t be a permanent address,” Barnett said. “The NC Supreme Court ruled decades ago that a college dormitory is a valid address for voting. Since the statutory requirements for running for office and voting are the same, a college dormitory is also a valid address for running for office.”

Until events in Pasquotank County, it was settled law in North Carolina that students could vote where they go to school, specifically including a dorm, as long as they do not intend to return to their parents’ home to live after graduation. This has been affirmed in two North Carolina Supreme Court cases, the 1979 Lloyd v. Babb case and the 1972 case of Hall v. Wake County, both of which found that a college dormitory meets the requirements for residency for voting purposes. In the 1980s, the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated these rulings into statutory law. Allowing students living in campus dormitories to run for elected office also appeared to be settled after Derwin Montgomery, a Winston-Salem State University student residing in a dormitory, was elected to the Winston-Salem city council in 2009.

Now that the appeal has concluded, Mr. King is ready to focus on his studies and the city council race. If elected, King will be the area’s first college student on the city council. “The benefit is two-fold,” King said. “It helps the students in having a voice on the council, and I believe it helps the residents of the city because the high schoolers and youth say, ‘Hey, we have someone that sort of looks like us. Someone that is youthful, energetic and ready to fight.’”

This is not the first time that Gilbert has sought to prevent a person of color from participating in the political process.  Gilbert previously challenged the right of then-incumbent Kirk Rivers from serving on the Elizabeth City Council on residency grounds.  Rivers, an African-American, successfully defended his right to remain on the City Council by taking his case to Superior Court.

The State Board of Elections hearing may be viewed in its entirety below:

Montravias King hearing Tuesday 9/3 at 1PM

When Montravias King, a senior at North Carolina’s historically black Elizabeth City State University, showed up at a hearing before the Pasquotank County Board of Elections in August to defend his bid for a city council seat, he and SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett faced off against Richard “Pete” Gilbert, the local Republican Party chair.

Gilbert was there to challenge King’s residency qualifications, arguing that because the student lives in a campus dormitory he’s not a permanent resident of Elizabeth City and therefore does not have the right to hold local office — even though he’s lived in, volunteered in, and voted in Pasquotank County since 2009. Earlier this year, Gilbert also got 56 ECSU students dropped from the voter rolls for registering at their campus address, but he has not mounted similar challenges to student voters at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, a largely white private school also in Elizabeth City.

The local elections board sided with Gilbert, and issued an order barring King from the ballot. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed an appeal with the state elections board, saying the ruling violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The hearing is set for Tuesday, September 3 at 1PM. The decision will have important implications for the voting rights of students across North Carolina, since residency requirements for running for office and casting a ballot are the same.

While the hearing is slated to begin at 1PM, a coalition of voting rights groups including Rock the Vote, Common Cause NC, and Democracy NC are holding a rally to support Montravias King outside the State Board of Elections beginning at 12:30PM.

August Recap: Voting Rights Matter!

voting line

August has been a busy month for SCSJ’s voting rights team.

  • When North Carolina’s Governor McCrory signed an anti-voting law considered the most restrictive in the country, SCSJ fought back. We filed a suit in federal court challenging new restrictions on early voting, the end of same-day voter registration, and the elimination of out-of-precinct provisional voting. The following week SCSJ filed a separate lawsuit in state court challenging the Voter ID provision of the bill because it violates the North Carolina Constitution.
  • When local boards of elections targeted college students, SCSJ responded. We defended Montravias King, the Elizabeth City State University student who was denied the right to run for city council because he lives on campus. Because the residency requirements to run for city council are the same as the residency requirements to vote, this seemingly isolated case in Pasquotank County had the potential to lead to the disenfranchisement of thousands of college students across the state.
  • When the Watauga County Board of Elections removed an early voting precinct from Appalachian State University, SCSJ and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights recommended that the decision be overturned. SCSJ stands with all eligible college students seeking to participate in the electoral process in the town where they go to school.
  • Unfair redistricting plans that give the votes of suburban voters more weight than that of urban voters may cause turnover in the Wake County School Board that could lead to re-segregation of the entire school system. SCSJ’s voting rights attorneys represent eleven individuals and two community organizations fighting the imbalanced redistricting maps that threaten the long-term success of the school district.  We filed suit in federal court to stop the use of districts that violate the one-person, one-vote standard.
  • While the focus in August has been on voter suppression in North Carolina, SCSJ continues to fight for voting rights across the South. At this time we have voting rights cases pending in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia, as well as in North Carolina.
SCSJ stands ready to protect the rights of all eligible voters. But at this critical juncture we need your help more than ever. Without financial contributions from supporters like you, we cannot continue to defend the many challenges to each North Carolinian’s right to vote. Please make a one-time or recurring donation today to help SCSJ. Because Voting Rights Matter!

Click here to support SCSJ’s work!

Montravias King brings national spotlight to NC student voter suppression

On August 22, 2013 The Rachel Maddow Show was devoted entirely to North Carolina voting rights issues. One of the major topics was SCSJ client Montravias King. Mr. King has lived in Elizabeth City since the summer of 2009, when he moved there to attend Elizabeth City State University. During the last four years, Mr. King has lived in Elizabeth City year round. His address on his driver’s license is the address of his alma mater, Elizabeth City State University. He votes in Elizabeth City. He does community service in Elizabeth City. For these reasons, Mr. King decided to run for city council in Elizabeth City. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that, although the residency requirements are the same for voting as for running for elected office, his on-campus address was considered inadequate to run for city council. SCSJ represented Montravias King at his hearing before the Pasquotank County Board of Elections, and on Tuesday September third SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett will represent Mr. King in his appeal to the State Board of Elections.

Montravias King

Montravias King

The following clip explains the wider implications of the Elizabeth City Board of Elections’ decision to deny Montravias King the right to run for office due to his on-campus address – which include a risk that all students living on college campuses across the state could lose the right to vote where they go to school.

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In addition to representing Montravias King in his ongoing battle for equal voting rights for college students, SCSJ is challenging North Carolina’s new monster voter suppression bill in two separate lawsuits – one challenging Voter ID requirements and one challenging other parts of the law such as limits to early voting and the end of same-day registration. SCSJ has also filed a challenge to the partisan voter redistricting of the Wake County School Board.

There is much work to be done to protect the right to vote for every eligible North Carolinian, and we can’t do it without your help! Please consider making a donation today to support ongoing efforts to protect the right to vote in North Carolina. Click here to support SCSJ’s work!

SCSJ client Montravias King featured on Rachel Maddow Show (twice)

On August 15, 2013 the Rachel Maddow Show dedicated a lengthy segment to evolving voter suppression efforts in North Carolina. One of the featured examples was the story of Montravias King, who SCSJ is representing in his efforts to run for City Council. The local board of elections has ruled that Mr. King may not run for elected office because he lives in student housing at his alma mater Elizabeth City State University. According to the board of elections, a university address is not adequate to prove residency. Since the same residency requirements are applied to political candidates and voters, there is grave concern that by blocking the right of Montravias King to run for city council, the local board of elections has started down a path toward disenfranchising all university students living on campus. SCSJ is representing Montravias King in his appeal to the State Board of Elections.

Then, on August 16, SCSJ client Montravias King himself appeared on Rachel Maddow.

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is involved in two major lawsuits challenging the new voter suppression law in North Carolina, as well as representing Montravias King in his ongoing efforts to participate in the political process and protect voting rights for college students. SCSJ is also litigating voting rights issues in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. But we can’t beat voter suppression without your help! Click here to support SCSJ’s work to end voter suppression in North Carolina and throughout the South!