Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

ACLU of NC responds to protests, militarized police action

Police across the nation have responded with violence and militarization to ongoing protests against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.

In North Carolina, protests have taken place throughout the state, with demonstrators and police clashing in Raleigh, Fayetteville and Charlotte. The ACLU of North Carolina is responding. Below is the statement the organization released today:

“The protests and uprisings happening here in North Carolina and across the country are a direct response to the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, and the epidemic of police violence and brutality that has victimized Black communities for centuries.

The violent and militarized tactics we saw deployed by state and local law enforcement over the weekend were a dangerous affront to First Amendment rights that inflamed tensions and endangered the lives and well-being of protesters and journalists. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and military-grade equipment are weapons of war that have no place on our city streets and serve only to compound the suffering and grief gripping our Black and Brown communities.

State and local law enforcement agencies must immediately begin respecting the constitutional rights of demonstrators, including halting the use of excessive force, suspending the use of militarized equipment, and ensuring safe spaces for people to express their demands for justice.

Curfews also raise serious constitutional concerns by broadly infringing on the rights of peaceful demonstrators, and serving as a pretext for biased arrests. By making presence on public streets anywhere in the city unlawful, these measures will lead to selective enforcement against people of color, and risk harassment of people who are unhoused. Any such restriction must clearly communicate to the public when and where it will apply, articulate valid justifications for the restrictions, and provide ample alternative locations where people may gather to express their views on the important issues.

Combined with the aggressive show of military force and the troubling accounts of excessive force by the police, curfews repeat the violence and brutality at the root of the protests.

Above all, our elected officials must begin to confront and address the systemic racism and injustice that pervades our society and our institutions. The pain and anguish that is spilling out onto our streets is a result of our country’s repeated failure to address the institutionalized racism and injustice that has claimed countless Black lives. Without justice, there will not be peace. We will continue to stand with our fellow North Carolinians against white supremacy and police violence.”

COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

COVID-19 bipartisan elections bill now moving to Senate for approval

(Photo by Melissa Boughton)

North Carolina House members voted 116-3 today to pass a bipartisan COVID-19 elections bill.

All three “no” votes on House Bill 1169 came from Democratic representatives. The roll call transcript of the votes is not yet posted online, but Rep. Amos Quick III (D-Guilford), Rep. Derwin Montgomery (D-Forsyth) and Rep. Raymond Smith Jr. (D-Sampson, Wayne) appeared to vote “no” via the roll call board posted on social media.

HB 1169 is intended to make the 2020 election more accessible to voters and safer for those who choose to cast a ballot in person. The main features of the measure include:

  • altering the requirements for absentee, voting-by-mail so that only one witness would be required, although the witness would now be required to provide their printed name and address;
  • allowing poll workers to staff voting sites outside their own precinct;
  • allowing voters to request blank absentee ballots by mail, email, fax or online portal.

The bill also allocates funding to the state and county boards of elections to help them administer the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Democrats and voting rights advocates have criticized the bill for not going far enough to protect the voting rights, particularly for people of color, who are bearing the greatest burden from COVID-19 and who are the most disenfranchised when it comes to voting in North Carolina.

A major sticking point in the measure for House Democrats, even those who voted in favor of the bill, was a provision that would add an acceptable voter photo ID in the event a state and federal court rescind their preliminary injunctions halting the potentially discriminatory law.

Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) voted in favor of HB 1169 but also scolded his colleagues during the floor discussion for injecting voter ID into a bill that was supposed to be “above board” to help North Carolinians in a crisis.

Other Democratic members acknowledged the measure was good, despite failing to address several requests from the State Board of Elections. Those included prepaid postage for absentee by-mail ballots and the declaration of Election Day as a holiday to allow more people to participate.

“Is it perfect? No,” said Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake), who was one of the primary sponsors of the bill. “Is it everything we dreamed of? No. Is it better for the people of North Carolina? Yes.”

The bill will now move to the Senate for approval. There are still at least three lawsuits in state and federal courts pending over North Carolina’s absentee ballot accessibility.

Courts & the Law, COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Voting rights advocates vow to keep fighting for fair, accessible, just election

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Questions about what the upcoming election will look like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic have been circulating for weeks in North Carolina.

House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan measure to address some concerns about accessibility to the ballot, but later the same day, a number of voting rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging several of the state’s registration and voting requirements, including the witness requirement for absentee ballot signatures, limited registration period for new voters, and the lack of safe accommodations for in-person polling places.

Advocates have praised the measure, House Bill 1169, but they’ve also pointed to issues it doesn’t address, like prepaid postage for by-mail absentee ballots and contactless drop boxes where ballots could be dropped off.

Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy NC also said lawmakers haven’t been able to work in a bipartisan fashion on other important democratic issues so voters have to be vigilant. “None of us are here calling for an all-mail election,” he said, adding that there still needed to be measures in place to protect a system that was not built for a surge of absentee ballots.

Lopez and other advocates representing more than 30 national and local civil and voting rights and social justice organizations held a virtual press conference to preview a virtual day of action tomorrow. It’s expected to serve as a unify and mobilize people to assert that they will fight “from now until November” for a just democracy.

House lawmakers will discuss HB 1169 at a House Elections and Ethics Law Committee at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The virtual day of action events begin at 2 p.m.

The #ProtectOurVoteNC Virtual Day of Action corresponds with the continuation of the General Assembly’s short session when legislators are making crucial decisions that could shape the state’s 2020 elections. Participating organizations are fighting barriers to voting imposed by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, as well those who are using a deadly pandemic for political gain and profits.

“Even through our grief, our anger, our sorrow and pain, and yes, our fears, we will stay in covenant with our long history of fighting for a representative democracy that lives up the hopes of our ancestors and ambitions of children’s greatest dreams,” said the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman. “Our voice matters; our votes matter; our lives matter.”

“North Carolina is a testing ground for this nation,” Spearman said. “The fight over our democracy has dominated cycles and cycles of news coverage. We have won tremendous victories against bold, unapologetic efforts to silence and suppress the voices of Black voters, LatinX, the poor, women, immigrants and workers. Tomorrow we’re calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to turn the page on that chapter and commit to making North Carolina a laboratory for making our democracy the most accessible in this nation, the most free, the most fair, the most just, the most safe.”

Democracy North Carolina, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and six individual voters filed the federal lawsuit late Friday. They are represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Fair Elections Center and pro bono counsel from law firm WilmerHale in Washington, D.C. Read the full lawsuit below.



Complaint LWV Dem NC (Text)

COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Bipartisan elections bill filed; would quell some voter access concerns amid COVID-19

The bipartisan election bill North Carolinians have been waiting weeks to see is finally here.

House lawmakers filed House Bill 1169 this morning, and it contains a lot of the measures the State Board of Elections and voting rights advocates have asked for to prepare for conducting an election in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill reduces the requirement for absentee mail-in ballots from two witnesses to one; it gives counties greater flexibility in where they assign poll workers; it allows voters to submit an absentee ballot request form via email, online portal, fax, mail or in-person (currently voters can submit an absentee ballot request form only by mail or in person); it allocates matching funds to receive federal dollars made available through the CARES Act and directs money to counties for preparation of election administration during the pandemic.

“This bill is a positive step toward ensuring every eligible North Carolina voter is able to safely and securely cast a ballot in this year’s elections,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “We applaud members on both sides of the aisle for this bipartisan effort. As the bill makes its way through each legislative chamber, we urge lawmakers to be responsive to suggestions from election experts and the public. Ultimately, it is crucial that we work together to fully prepare our state to conduct an election that is free and fair for all.”

Lawmakers are set to discuss the bill at a House Elections and Ethics Law Committee at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Primary sponsors of House Bill 1169 include Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) and Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), who are both co-chairs of the Committee that will meet next week. Committee members Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake) and Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) are also sponsors of the measure.

There are at least two lawsuits pending to try and force the state to make elections more accessible in North Carolina. HB 1169, if passed, would satisfy most of the requests that plaintiffs have made in those suits.

The bill would prohibit the State Board of Elections from moving to an all mail election or sending ballots to North Carolinians who didn’t request them. It should be noted, though, that neither the Board or voting rights advocates ever asked for an all mail election.

House Speaker Tim Moore commended lawmakers in a Friday news release for their work on the measure.

“Voters deserve consensus bipartisan efforts to improve our elections systems, and this General Assembly will provide the necessary funding and reforms to effectively administer elections in the 2020 cycle,” he said.

Courts & the Law, COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News

JUST IN: Civil rights advocates continue to fight for incarcerated people after dismissal in NC Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit last week seeking help for incarcerated people facing an outbreak of COVID-19, but civil rights groups aren’t giving up that easily.

The dismissal was without prejudice, which left open the possibility that the lawsuit could be refiled in a lower court.That’s exactly what the plaintiffs did today. The ACLU of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Emancipate NC, Forward Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network have re-filed the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court in an effort to force Gov. Roy Cooper and other public officials take further action to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19.

It was filed on behalf of the NC NAACP, Disability Rights, the ACLU of NC, three people who are currently incarcerated, and a spouse of an incarcerated person.

“We hoped that the Supreme Court would take this up in the first instance given the unprecedented high stakes and the closing window of time to save lives,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director for the ACLU of NC. “But we will continue the fight in the lower court. The state and governor have clear constitutional duties to prevent mass death and suffering among incarcerated people in their custody.”

The 24-page lawsuit seeks an immediate order compelling officials to reduce the prison population in order to enable the social distancing that experts agree is necessary to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

As of 3 p.m. on April 20, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) reported on its website 274 incarcerated people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and an additional 570 tests are pending. That number is likely inaccurate though, because it was also reported today that at least 350 people at Neuse Correctional Institution have tested positive. The majority of cases are concentrated there, because that’s where officials decided to undertake mass testing initiative.

DPS has announced several criterion for reviewing the release of 500 incarcerated people from custody due to the threat of COVID-19, but advocates argue it’s not enough. The corrections system already operates at about 8% over capacity, and DPS would need to release at least 2,647 individuals from custody to provide minimal protection for incarcerated people and correctional staff.

“This legal action seeks to avert a human rights disaster in North Carolina,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights North Carolina. “The large-scale outbreak at Neuse Correctional shows just how overcrowded, unhygienic prisons are a tinderbox for COVID-19. Many people with disabilities will be at highest risk of death. Public officials and courts must act swiftly and sensibly to reduce our prison population.”

Whitley Carpenter, a staff attorney at Forward Justice, said the numbers in North Carolina correctional facilities are rising by the hour, and deaths there are completely preventable.

Cooper has unfettered clemency powers to release people from prison, but has not used it as a response to the pandemic.

“Condemning people to die is not only morally wrong, but the cruel and unusual punishment that incarcerated people will face as the virus spreads through our correctional facilities is unconstitutional,” she said. “While we are disappointed in the [high] court’s decision, we are more resolved than ever to continue fighting for the rights of those who are currently incarcerated.”

Read the full lawsuit filed today below.



2020 04 20 NC NAACP v Cooper II Compl (002) (Text)