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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.

 

 

(C) CommonDreams.org

Federal judges order NC to redraw racially gerrymandered legislative districts

 

DURHAM, N.C. — Voters and voting rights advocates won a major court victory today in North Carolina, where three federal judges unanimously found that 28 of the state’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn after the November 2016 election.

The three-judge court in the Middle District of North Carolina found that the North Carolina General Assembly unconstitutionally used race when it drew the districts following the 2010 U.S. Census, needlessly increasing the percentage of black voters in districts where black voters had been successfully electing their candidates of choice for years.

“After careful consideration of the evidence presented, we conclude that race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Moreover, Defendants have not shown that their use of race to draw any of these districts was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.” However, the three judges cautioned that today’s decision “should in no way be read to imply that majority-black districts are no longer needed in the state of North Carolina.”

As a result of North Carolina’s redistricting formula, “I was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race,” said Sandra Covington, a retired elementary school teacher in Fayetteville and the lead plaintiff in the case. Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts. “Today’s decision is a clear message that North Carolina voters have a right not to be assigned to election districts based solely on the color of their skin,” she said.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues to be necessary “but should not be used to pack black voters or minimize their influence in the political process,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who called the General Assembly’s race-based approach to redistricting after the 2010 Census “a recipe for permanent racial segregation.” The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with Poyner Spruill LLP and Adam Stein of the Tin Fulton law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the case.

Trial in the case took place April 11-15 in Greensboro before Circuit Judge James Wynn, District Judge Thomas Schroeder, and District Judge Catherine Eagles.

For the full opinion, click here.

Judge orders remedial actions in Wake County redistricting case

Raleigh, NC — This morning, August 9, a judge overseeing the Wake County redistricting case ordered a series of actions to resolve the unconstitutional redistricting for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the Wake County School Board.

The following is the list of actions to correct the situation, as ordered by the judge.

County Board of Commissioners:

  • March Primaries held in District A and B are void as these districts are unconstitutional.
  • Candidates from residency districts 4, 5, and 6 will run at large as previously scheduled.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
School Board:
  • Wake County Board of Elections must use 2011 districts.
  • All 9 single-member districts will be elected in November 2016 by plurality.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
  • There will be no run off elections.
  • These districts are only to be used for the 2016 elections.
The judge also stated his expectations that the General Assembly will create a system to resolve the unconstitutional districts upon reconvening in January 2017.
“This is a victory for basic fairness. It is not the American way to change the rules in the middle of the game because you are losing. That is what the General Assembly did when they passed these unconstitutional districts,” said Dr. Earl C. Johnson, plaintiff and former president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

For the link to the official order, click here.

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a legal nonprofit engaged in voting rights advocacy, partners 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. The organization was founded in 2007 in Durham, North Carolina.

Alberta Currie

Alberta Currie

Meet Alberta Currie, the lead plaintiff in SCSJ’s litigation challenging North Carolina’s strict Voter ID requirement.

Voting is a matter of pride for Alberta Currie. Since the age of 21 in 1956, she consistently has voted in every election. It was her grandmother who instilled in her the importance of never missing a voting day. But due to a voter ID provision in the state’s new Monster Voter Suppression Law, she may not be able to cast a ballot on Election Day in the coming years.

Currie, a 78-year-old native of Robeson County who now lives in Hope Mills, does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate. She doesn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home to a midwife during the Jim Crow days of the segregated South.

On August 13, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court – with Currie as the lead plaintiff – challenging the new voter ID requirement of the law. The suit was filed on behalf of the N.C. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and several individual voters, including Alberta Currie.

After the case was combined with another case, North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, arguments were made in federal court.  On July 29, 2016, the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the law was not only unconstitutional but targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.” As a result of that ruling, the 2016 general election in North Carolina proceeded with two weeks of early voting, same-day voter registration, and no requirement for photo ID.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice supports the rights of all voters – particularly those like  Alberta Currie and an estimated 318,000 other North Carolinians – who may completely lose the ability to vote due to changes in voting laws. SCSJ is currently engaged in voting rights litigation in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Litigating the current onslaught of repressive voting laws requires a team of experts, extensive travel, filing fees, and numerous other expenses in addition to regular operating costs. Your donation continues the fight for the voting rights of people like Alberta Currie. Please consider making a recurring donation to help sustain our voting rights litigation year-roundClick here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers

VA NAACP asks VA Supreme Court to uphold return of voting rights to people with prior felony convictions

Richmond, VA. —The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed a brief on Monday, June 27, 2016 in the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions.

Gov. McAuliffe’s Order for the Restoration of Rights, issued April 22, 2016, represents a significant step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony convictions are able to not only re-enter and meaningfully participate in society, but also exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Currently, under Virginia law, people with felony convictions are automatically stripped of their political rights, and the governor alone has the power to restore those rights after completion of the individuals’ sentences. The Commonwealth’s extreme felony disenfranchisement provision is well outside the mainstream nationwide, and it exists and has persisted for explicitly racially discriminatory reasons dating to the 19th century.

Exercising his exclusive power under the Virginia Constitution, the governor ordered that a slew of critical civil rights—the rights to vote, hold political office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public—be immediately restored to the approximately 206,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions. In issuing his order, the governor noted that “Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts.”

In support of the Governor’s action, on Monday the Virginia NAACP submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Virginia Supreme Court in Howell v. McAuliffe, explaining why the Governor’s executive order was appropriate given the unbroken thread of racial discrimination woven into the Commonwealth’s constitution. Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and others have petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the Governor’s action as an improper exercise of his constitutional power. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on July 19 in Richmond.

Voting restrictions are but one example of the far-reaching negative consequences felony convictions can have on individuals’ lives—consequences that persist long after those individuals’ terms of incarceration and supervised release have concluded. In addition to being denied the right to participate in the political process, Virginians with felony convictions face heightened barriers to obtaining reliable housing, steady employment and other basic necessities, even after completing their sentences. These barriers disproportionately affect minority and low-income Virginians, and contribute to a cycle of recidivism that further stacks the deck against formerly incarcerated people seeking to re-enter and positively contribute to society.

“Felony disenfranchisement laws like the one in Virginia have no place in modern society, and the brief filed today outlines many of the reasons why that is the case,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the Virginia NAACP in this matter and provides legal assistance and re-entry services to communities across the South. “Any action taken to ameliorate the racially discriminatory effects of such laws should be applauded and upheld, not attacked.”

To access the amicus brief, click here.

 

 

 

Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

For Immediate Release                                                                                                    Contact: Beverley Clark, 919-247-4207

Anita Earls, 919-794-4198,

anita@scsj.org

 

Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

Voters in overpopulated districts claim the districts make their votes count for less and that district 4 is a race-based district

 

RALEIGH, NC (April 9, 2015) – Today the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, and fifteen individual Wake County voters, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the districts adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly to be used for the Wake County Board of County Commissioners beginning in 2016 are unconstitutional under the federal and state constitutions.

The Plaintiffs contend that the districts approved by the General Assembly on April 2, 2015 failed two constitutional tests:

  • One-person, one-vote violation: Election districts must be approximately the same size in population so that every voter’s vote will carry the same weight. Voters who live in over-populated districts have less say in their government than voters in smaller districts.  The lawsuit claims that the wide population disparities among the districts are unconstitutional because they are based on the desire to favor one party over another and the desire to favor rural and suburban voters at the expense of urban voters.  The new law creates deviations of 9.8% and 7.11%, when it is possible to draw such districts with deviations of .02% and .33% respectively.
  • Excessive use of racial criteria: Even though there is a long history African-Americans being elected at-large to the Wake County Board of County Commissioners, the new plan creates a majority-black district, District 4, that is highly irregular in shape and splits ten precincts. The lawsuit claims this district is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The Districts were drawn and approved by Republican state legislators over the objection of the sitting county commissioners, four of whom are Democrats elected last fall.  “This litigation is about the fundamental American proposition that when voters live and vote in districts, those districts should be relatively compact, and the population divided equally,” said Plaintiff Beverley S. Clark, a resident of the over-populated District 3 in the new plan.  “It is undemocratic for the General Assembly to randomly use its power to make district changes without any compelling reason or any new census data.”  Plaintiffs also cite the failure of the General Assembly to adopt a plan proposed by Representative Gill that had equal sized, regular shaped districts using whole precincts, and that didn’t divide voters by race.  The General Assembly could have adopted a more balance option, or put the districts to a vote of the people.  The failure to pursue these options shows that there were illegitimate and unconstitutional motivations behind the plan.

Dr. Earl Johnson, President of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, whose members live in the affected districts, stated “The new election plan passed by the General Assembly is likely to result in people having less, not more, connection with their elected representatives.  Right now voters have a voice in electing all seven members who must be accountable to them, under the new plan each voter will have just two commissioners representing them, who can ignore them because the gerrymandered districts give them safe seats. This was a partisan power grab that cannot withstand neutral review.”

The Plaintiffs are represented by Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  View the Complaint here.

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redistricting

North Carolina State Court Allows Photo ID Challenge to Proceed to Trial

This afternoon, Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan ruled that a challenge to North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voting will proceed to trial in July 2015.  In ruling on the respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (where no evidence is allowed to be taken into account), Judge Morgan indicated that the case needed to be presented with evidence at trial this summer before ruling on the constitutionality of the law, as to Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims and unconstitutional qualification for voting claim.

“On behalf of our clients, we look forward to trying this case in July and demonstrating the disenfranchising effect of the photo ID requirement,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice Staff Attorney George Eppsteiner.

“We’re going to show how this law has a negative impact on voters of color and voters that do not have the resources to obtain an ID,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute of North Carolina.

“The League of Women Voters is pleased that we will have our day in Court in July,” said Brenda Rogers, Director of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “As in other states, we are confident that the evidence will show how photo ID requirements actually prevent access to voting.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represents plaintiffs including Alberta Currie, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the NC A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and other individual plaintiffs in this litigation.  Pressly Millen of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice also represents Ms. Currie and other individual plaintiffs.

 

Votes Not Counted: Lauren’s Story

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 Lauren’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Lauren is a 26-year-old marketing professional whose vote was not counted in November’s election because of the voter suppression law (H.B. 589) that eliminated same-day registration.  Despite being a consistent voter in the past, Lauren was unable to support her candidates of choice in this election.

Lauren previously lived in Pitt County and voted there regularly in municipal, primary, and general elections.  She moved from Pitt County to Wake County and had every intention of voting in November’s election.  She knew that there had been some changes to North Carolina’s election laws but did not think they affected her ability to vote because she had been previously registered in Pitt County.  However, on November 1st, Lauren would find out that her vote would not be counted.

During the early voting period, Lauren went to the Lake Lynn Community Center in Raleigh to vote.  Since Lauren had moved from Pitt County to Wake County more than 30 days before the election, Lauren was told that she needed to re-register to vote and her ballot for this election would not be counted.  Lauren therefore was only able to register for future elections and while she did cast a provisional ballot, it was not ultimately counted.  Had the General Assembly not repealed same-day registration, Lauren would have been able to update her registration and have her vote counted.

Lauren is frustrated how the voter suppression law negatively impacts real voters like her.  As a political science major in college, Lauren is knowledgeable about the political process.  Lauren uses voting as a way to exercise her own political and social rights, and to support the rights of others.  Lauren feels discouraged after being disenfranchised in this year’s election.  Lauren has agreed to share her story so the citizens of North Carolina understand that these changes to elections laws negatively impact real people, including those like Lauren who really care about the right to vote.

Votes Not Counted: Jessica’s Story

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 Jessica’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Jessica J. is a lifelong Gaston County, North Carolina resident who was disenfranchised in November’s election due to the voter suppression law’s (H.B. 589) elimination of same-day registration.  Despite Jessica’s consistent voting history, she was denied the right to vote because of an administrative error that could not be corrected without same-day registration.

Jessica first registered to vote the day she turned 18 years old at the North Carolina DMV.  She first voted in the 2008 presidential election by absentee ballot while she attended college.  Jessica then voted in the 2012 presidential election during the early voting period in Mt. Holly.  Between 2012 and 2014, Jessica did not move, did not change her name, and did not change or update her voter registration.  Despite voting consistently in North Carolina elections, Jessica would soon discover that her voter registration vanished without a trace.

On November 1, 2014, Jessica again went to the Mt. Holly early voting location.  She expected her voting trip to be quick and painless, like it was in 2012; she even wore her gym clothes because she was going to exercise immediately afterwards.  However, her experience turned into an hour-long disenfranchising nightmare.

When Jessica checked in to vote on November 1st, polling officials could not locate any registration information for her.  Jessica spoke with three different election officials and even got on the phone with the Gaston County Board of Elections Director, all of whom said Jessica could not be found in the system and therefore her vote would not count.  Jessica felt flustered and disenfranchised; she simply had no idea how something like this could happen.

Ultimately, Jessica cast a provisional ballot and was re-registered for elections in the future.  However, her provisional ballot was not counted because her registration information was never located.  If same-day registration was still in existence, Jessica could have corrected her registration problem on November 1st and would have had her ballot counted.  Jessica, who works in disability services, feels it is very important to participate in the political process to advocate for those in need.  Jessica cannot believe this happened to her as the elections process worked for her twice before. She views her voting experience as both harassing and embarrassing.  Jessica deserves to have her vote counted and wanted to share her story to show how the voter suppression law impacts real individuals in North Carolina.

If you know an eligible voter whose vote has been unfairly denied, please ask them to tell their story! Contact sarah@scsj.org for more information.

Votes Not Counted: Charise’s Story

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 Cherise’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Charise Dill is a 25-year-old North Carolina resident who was not able to register to vote because a North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles employee wrongly told her that she needed a North Carolina photo ID to register to vote.  When Charise was told that she should have been able to register to vote without a North Carolina photo ID, she was upset.  It was too late to fix the DMV worker’s mistake.  That mistake would have been fixable had the North Carolina General Assembly not eliminated same day registration.  Because of that new law, Charise was disenfranchised.

Charise was a registered voter in South Carolina and moved from South Carolina to Hendersonville, North Carolina in May 2013.  She was excited about moving to North Carolina because she felt like she would have a voice in North Carolina elections.  She wants her voice to be heard.  In September 2014, she visited the Henderson County DMV Driver’s License Office (Baystone Drive location) to get her NC driver’s license and to register to vote.  Charise wasn’t able to get her driver’s license that day, but she asked if she could register to vote.  The DMV employee told Charise that she would not be able to register to vote because she did not have a North Carolina photo ID.  Unfortunately, this DMV employee was incorrect as North Carolina photo identification is not required when completing a North Carolina Voter Registration Application.  Relying on this state official’s advice, Charise left the NC DMV without registering to vote.

On October 30, 2014, Charise discovered that a North Carolina resident does not need a North Carolina photo ID to register to vote.  However, due to H.B. 589’s elimination of same day registration, Charise’s voice won’t be heard in this election.  Charise is not alone in her story of disenfranchisement.  The elimination of same day registration is preventing many North Carolinians from having the opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidates of their choice.  Charise wanted to share her story so others could see how these voter-suppression laws prevent real people from voting.  Charise should have the opportunity to vote in this election; it is not her fault the State of North Carolina gave her misinformation.