Commentary

Decision upholding NC’s restrictive voting law is far from the end of the story (UPDATED)

Voter-ID-signThe lengthy ruling yesterday by Judge Thomas Schroeder (a George W. Bush appointee to the federal courts) upholding North Carolina’s restrictive voter ID law is far from the end of the story on the matter. The following statement issued after the decision by advocates from the ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice explains why:

The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice condemned today’s federal court ruling upholding provisions of North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The groups are analyzing the court’s decision and considering next steps.

The groups are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit the counting of out-of-precinct ballots. Thousands of North Carolinians, disproportionately African-Americans, have relied on those provisions to cast their votes in past elections.

“The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans. This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered North Carolina to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the 2014 elections as the case made its way through the courts; that ruling was ultimately reversed, however, and the provisions remained in effect.

“Today’s ruling is inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit’s decision in 2014, and we’re confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney Allison Riggs.

At federal trial in July 2015, dozens of witnesses spoke of how the law has severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African-American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly – 70 percent of those who voted early were African-American.

The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice charge the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

This morning, Bob Hall, Executive Director of the voting watchdog group Democracy North Carolina offered the following statement: Read more

News

Just in: State judge sends voter ID case to trial

VoteWake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan  has refused to dismiss a case challenging the state’s voter ID law, sending the case to trial in July instead.

Under the so-called monster voting law passed in 2013, voters will have to show one of seven forms of photo identification to cast a ballot starting in 2016.

“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’s George Eppsteiner, one of attorneys for the parties challenging the law.

Those parties include 78-year-old Alberta Currie, whose family picked cotton and tobacco on Robeson County fields and who has no birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

Joining her in the lawsuit, Currie v. North Carolina — filed in August 2013 when three federal actions were likewise filed — are several other individuals as well as the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the North Carolina A. Phillip Randolph Institute.

Together they allege that the photo ID requirement creates a new qualification to vote and discriminates against African-American voters, all in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.

At a hearing in late January, both the state and the challengers asked the court enter judgment in their favor based solely upon their respective court pleadings.

In his order filed on February 24, Morgan ruled instead that the challengers’ claims that the photo ID requirement constituted an impermissible qualification on the right to vote and also violated Equal Protection provisions of the state constitution could only be decided after a full presentation of evidence at trial.

Read the full decision here.

 

News

Sixth Circuit rules for NAACP in suit challenging Ohio’s restrictions on early voting

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that Ohio’s attempts to limit early voting — a subject that will be argued tomorrow in front of the Fourth Circuit when it considers North Carolina’s recently enacted voting restrictions — are in fact unconstitutional. This is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a district court decision restoring early voting cuts and expanding early voting hours.

The ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed a lower court’s order that he expand early voting hours.

The three-judge panel previously rejected a request to delay the court order pending Husted’s appeal. Husted then expanded statewide early, in-person voting hours while the case proceeded.

Civil rights groups and several African-American churches sued state officials in May over a new state law eliminating “Golden Week,” a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, and a statewide early, in-person voting schedule that did not include Sundays. Attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in U.S. Southern District Court that the reduced number of days burdened low-income and African-American Ohioans who are more likely to take advantage of Golden Week and Sunday voting.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus agreed. He ruled that once Ohio granted a broad scheme of early, in-person voting, state officials could not reduce it in a way that burdened certain groups of voters.

Read the court’s unanimous ruling by clicking here.

Commentary

The details on tomorrow’s voting rights hearing at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

The good folks at the ACLU have the details on the case which is also being lead by the North Carolina NAACP and civil rights lawyers at the Advancement Project:

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

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

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.

WHO: American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice

WHAT: Oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law

WHERE: The U.S. Courthouse, 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, N.C.

WHEN: Thursday, September 25, 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law Read more

Uncategorized

Election day trivia: can people in jail vote?

Here’s a chance to increase your voting rights knowledge, as we all try to whittle down these hours before finding out who won and lost in today’s general election.

Nearly everyone over the age of 18 can vote in North Carolina, including those who are jailed and awaiting trials on charges of various crimes.

“Being accused doesn’t affect your right to vote one way or the other,” said Eddie Caldwell, the director of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.

Casting a ballot, however, would have taken some forethought on the part of the inmate, with voting done through absentee ballots.

Only those who are convicted of felonies and currently serving out a prison or probation sentences are prevented from voting. That leaves those who are serving out misdemeanors, people who finished serving felony sentences, and those in jail awaiting trials able to exercise their rights to vote.

But, you can’t exactly walk to your regular polling place if you’re locked up in jail on Election Day.

Jailed inmates have to vote by absentee ballot, and that means interested inmates needed to have made a request to their county elections board before last Tuesday for absentee ballots, said Isela Gutierrez of Democracy NC, the good government and voting rights non-profit.

Caldwell, the sheriff’s association director, didn’t know how the state’s 100 sheriffs handle requests to vote, nor how much of the jail population typically votes in an election.

In Wake and Durham counties, Democracy NC and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice held voter registration drives in jails and helped 58 inmates in Wake and 93 in Durham request ballots for this year’s election or register to vote, Gutierrez said.

Durham jail officials allowed the groups to directly help inmates request ballots, but jailers in Wake County handed out information about voting rights themselves there because of jail staff said they didn’t have enough staff to allow for more interaction with inmates, she said.

Losing out on their right to vote today will be inmates arrested since the Oct. 30 deadline and anyone who might have woken up in a jail cell this morning wanting to vote without taking steps beforehand.

“It’s definitely too late if you’re there right now and you haven’t made any other arrangements,” Gutierrez said.