Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NAACP asks for voting accommodations for hurricane-impacted communities

Kelvin Thompson, a Robeson County resident, speaks about being impacted by the hurricane. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Kelvin Thompson still hadn’t recovered from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when Hurricane Florence turned his life upside down again a couple weeks ago.

“It’s been painful,” he said Monday after a press conference outside the legislature.

The North Carolina NAACP gathered there the day before lawmakers were scheduled to return to Raleigh for a special session on hurricane recovery. The organization has asked for immediate emergency action of the release of hurricane relief resources to the fullest extent possible and for the state to take measures to ensure those affected by the recent natural disaster would still be able to partake in the midterm elections.

Thompson is one of those people. He and his family are staying with relatives now, but they were recently in a Lumberton shelter.

His home flooded in 2016 and hadn’t yet been repaired and his car flooded during Hurricane Florence — now he has to find rides everywhere, including to the community college classes he takes. He asked lawmakers to consider impacted-communities’ needs.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have the necessities they need,” he said.

The NAACP has officially asked the Governor, lawmakers and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in three different letters to extend the voter registration deadline by at least three business days in the affected counties — Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Greene, Harnett, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lee, Lenoir, Montgomery, Moore, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Pitt, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Wayne and Wilson.

The organization has also asked to extend the absentee ballot deadline for hurricane-impacted counties to 5 p.m. the day prior to Election Day and to allow local churches and community organizations to assist hurricane-impacted voters in obtaining, preparing and submitting absentee ballots. And finally, they have asked for early voting and Election Day accommodations for certain communities.

“We are in a time where building within while battling without is no longer just a saying but a real way of life that each one of us needs to remember as we move through these final days before early voting begins,” said the Rev. Dr. Anthony T. Spearman, president of the N.C. NAACP. “We are truly in a battle – a battle for our very lives, a battle that cannot be won without the constitutional weapon of equal protection under the law.”

Spearman expressed some skepticism about lawmakers’ motives, noting that they have previously implemented deceptive plans and that the NAACP would be back for the special session tomorrow to keep a watchful eye on the public’s business.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) tweeted today that his office supported extending voter registration until Oct. 15 in impacted areas, funding additional voter education efforts for displaced individuals and allowing quick replacement of damaged voting sites.

“I let all members of the House from both parties know of my ideas last week,” he tweeted. “No need for name-calling on this issue. We’re all working to help hurricane-impacted families and voters.”

Caitlin Swain, co-director of Forward Justice, said at the Monday press conference that they want to take the worry about voting access off the table for people who are focused on recovering from the hurricane. She said at least 1,200 voters have been displaced and are not in their homes after the storm.

“What we have asked for is simple accommodations that will allow for voters to know that when early voting begins and when Election Day comes around, your voice will be heard, and that voice is essential for being able to ensure that the recovery efforts themselves serve the people who are most impacted in these communities,” she said.

Sylvia Barnes, president of the Goldsboro/Wayne county chapters, spoke at the conference about some of the impacts in her area — she said roads were still closed from flooding damage and two shelters had to be closed because of damage.

“You cannot imagine unless you have been in one of these areas what the devastation is and how people feel so lost,” she said.

The House and Senate are scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, and a joint appropriations meeting is set for 11 a.m. Read the NAACP’s full request below.

Naacp Ncga Letter by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Judges plan to make quick decision in mid-decade redistricting case

Just because lawmakers were successful in correcting two Wake County districts that were unconstitutionally gerrymandered doesn’t mean they had to alter four more.

That was the argument made Friday by Southern Coalition for Social Justice Senior Voting Rights Attorney Allison Riggs on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of NC, Democracy NC, the A. Philip Randolph Institute of NC and four individual plaintiffs.

They are challenging the constitutionality of four state House districts in Wake County based on a state constitution prohibition on mid-decade redistricting.

Riggs told the three-judge panel that absent a court order requiring the redrawing of the four districts in question, the state constitution requires them to remain unaltered.

“Substituting one constitutional violation in 2017 for another doesn’t remedy the injury voters suffer when they’re deprived of legal electoral districts year after year,” she said. “The time for a full fix is now.”

Phil Strach, the attorney representing the legislative defendants, argued that when lawmakers used race the way they did the first time around, that policy created a ripple effect in all the districts. To correct the gerrymanders, they had to err on the side of caution and correct all of Wake County, not just the unconstitutional districts and bordering areas.

“t’s very easy to Monday morning quarterback a redistricting claim,” he said. “Anyone can take hot shots at what the legislature did.”

Strach said lawmakers corrected the federal issue of racial gerrymandering — it may not have been the best way, but it was their way, and the correction is what mattered most.

“The federal remedy would trump the state constitutional requirement,” he added. “We think the court here can avoid the [state] constitutional issue altogether because it’s undisputed that the [federal] constitutional violations were fixed by the legislature.”

Strach also said that when a case comes down to differing interpretations of the state constitution — like in this instance — “then the General Assembly wins.”

The federal constitutional issues of racial gerrymandering stem from the North Carolina v. Covington case.

Riggs took issue with Strach’s characterization of their case as Monday morning quarterbacking because she said lawmakers were told before submitting their districts they didn’t have to alter the four in question. Because of that, and because of alternative maps in evidence, the court, she reiterated, can conclude that lawmakers could remedy the two racially gerrymandered districts without altering the four in question.

Riggs also pointed out that there is not a constitutional avoidance principle that allows them to ignore the case altogether as Strach suggested they do.

“These plaintiffs have rights,” she said.

The three-judge panel — Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton — took the arguments under advisement and indicated they planned to make a decision in the case soon.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Three-judge panel to consider mid-decade redistricting today

Today, a three-judge panel will hear arguments about whether lawmakers violated a state law against mid-decade redistricting when they redrew districts that weren’t ruled unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

The North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of NC, Democracy NC, the A. Philip Randolph Institute of NC and four individual plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of four state House districts in Wake County.

The same districts were challenged in the racial gerrymandering case, North Carolina v. Covington, based on a state constitution prohibition on mid-decade redistricting — lawmakers were accused of redrawing districts they didn’t have to during a court-ordered remedial map-making process.

A special master redrew those districts and the U.S. District Court ordered they be used in this year’s elections, but the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the districts, likely because they involved issues of state law, not federal law.

The three-judge panel — Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton — already denied a preliminary injunction in the case. The hearing today is for a summary judgement.

The plaintiffs are asking the panel of judges to agree that the unnecessary redrawing of the four districts violate the state constitution’s ban on mid-decade redistricting and order the previous districts be used in the 2020 election.

Legislative defendants argue that when a court order triggers new redistricting, the state constitution contains no limits on lawmakers’ ability to modify districts.

The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. at Campbell University School of Law.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Civil rights organizations to DOJ: Withdraw unconstitutional subpoena requests

Ten civil rights organizations signed on to a letter Wednesday asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw the recently issued subpoenas in North Carolina seeking millions of voter records.

“It’s clear that these subpoenas are a fishing expedition that aims to intimidate voters of color in North Carolina,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Americans should have the peace of mind to know that when they cast their ballot, it is not going to examined by government officials in a way that discloses personally identifying information and how they voted. This effort not only undermines the privacy interests of voters, it also eliminates a crucial element of every free and fair election — the secrecy of the ballot.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had initially asked at the end of August for the production of 15 million voter documents within 20 days by the State Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement and 44 county boards of elections.

They backed off after significant media coverage, but are still asking for a wide breadth of information (including poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents) and for the State Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement and 44 county boards of elections in the eastern part of the state to preserve everything.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also subpoenaed voter information from the state Department of Motor Vehicles — that request, however, was more narrow and targeted mainly immigrants and foreign-born citizens.

The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office is fighting the state and county boards of elections subpoenas — per a unanimous vote by the State Board to quash the documents — and it’s not yet clear what the DMV plans to do with regard to its request.

The information requested could compromise North Carolina voters’ privacy and the letter sent by civil rights organizations to the Department of Justice highlights that concern.

“The extremely broad and unprecedented subpoenas extend far beyond the scope of any legitimate law enforcement objective and threaten voters’ constitutional right to cast a ballot free from fear and intimidation as well as their expectation that their personally identifiable information … and their voting preferences will remain private in accordance with the law,” it states. “Further, given the massive redactions necessary to avoid complete disregard for voters’ rights and the law, responding to these ICE Subpoenas would interfere with the duties of North Carolina’s election officials at any point in any election cycle.”

The letter goes on to make four main points about why the subpoenas should be withdrawn altogether: they target people of color, immigrants and low income communities; they seek voter information that must remain protected; they have already interfered with the upcoming elections; and the U.S. Attorney should not use grand jury proceedings as fishing expeditions.

Read the full letter below. One of the organizations that signed on to the letter, the North Carolina Justice Center, is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.

Lettter From Civil Rights Organizations to DOJ by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Know your rights post Florence on National Voter Registration Day

Today is National Voter Registration Day, and early voting for the November midterm elections in North Carolina is less than a month away.

Voters can make sure they are registered to vote and that their information is current here. Anyone who isn’t registered to vote or who needs to make changes to their registration has until Oct. 12 to do so and can find more information here.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) also recently released information about voter rights post Hurricane Florence, which devastated much of the eastern part of the state.

“In the wake of natural disasters, voters frequently get displaced from their homes,” a news release states. “That does not mean that these voters lose their right to vote and have their political voices heard. Survivors of Hurricane Florence who have been forced from their homes because of the storm and subsequent flooding have several options available to them to vote this November.”

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is still assessing damage from the hurricane to early voting sites. The State Board and voting rights advocates have been working double-time to get out the vote in the wake of the disaster.

See SCSJ’s voting rights flyer below:

Know Your Voting Rights by NC Policy Watch on Scribd