NAACP adds churches, others to NC elections lawsuit

ablythe@newsobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

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The Rev. William Barber, head of the N.C. NAACP, holds up a copy of the paperwork as he announces that the group is filing a lawsuit against the recently passed Voter ID bill during a press conference held in Durham, NC on August 13, 2013.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Six churches from across North Carolina have added their names to an NAACP lawsuit challenging new state elections law.

In an amended complaint filed in federal court this week, the historically African-American churches in Merry Hill, Brevard, Durham, Hickory and Chapel Hill complained that cuts to the number of days for early voting and the ban on same-day registration and voting would have a negative impact on them.

The churches contended they would have to divert money for food banks, computer classes and other social-service programs to help get members who need assistance to the polls and proper locations for IDs and supporting documentation.

Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem contends that the reduction in the number of days for early voting, allowing only one Sunday, “will place a strain on the church’s transportation services, will make it difficult for the church to operate the programs as they have in the past, and will lead to a reduction in the number of voters and congregants the church is able to transport to the polls.”

During the 2008 and 2012 elections, many African-American churches across North Carolina offered “Souls to the Polls” programs that encouraged voting by taking church-goers from services directly to the polls during early-voting periods.

“Emmanuel Baptist Church must now divert substantial resources and attention away from other critical missions to assist members of its congregation, the residents of the surrounding community it serves, and other constituents who stand to have their right to vote burdened by the law,” the amended complaint states.

Ray Starling, the general counsel for House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Cornelius Republican, questioned Thursday whether the churches would have standing to join the case. He maintains the lawsuit is more about politics and building support among Democratic strongholds than the constitutional questions about the elections-law changes.

“It’s further proof that it’s not about the law, it’s about turf and politics,” Starling said.

Irv Joyner, an N.C. Central University law professor who is helping with the NAACP lawsuit, argued the churches should have standing.

“Historically, the center of political activity in the African-American community has been the churches,” Joyner said. “In every respect, the history of the African-American churches have shown that they are suffering the ill effects, as are their congregants, that this law has brought.”

The amended complaint adds six individuals as plaintiffs, too.

A flurry of lawsuits

In August, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law sweeping revisions to North Carolina’s voting procedures, the stroke of his pen set off a flurry of lawsuits.

Rosanell Johnson Eaton, a nonagenarian in Franklin County, was a lead plaintiff in a suit filed in August by the state NAACP and a voter rights organization.

A proponent of early voting who has spent years helping others get to the polls, Eaton claims that provisions of the new law are too restrictive and will hinder her ability to vote.

She has a North Carolina driver’s license, but she fears that the name on it may not match the name on her certified birth certificate. The reason is that she was born at home, and a midwife inaccurately wrote her name on her birth certificate, she said.

In the lawsuit filed in August, Eaton contended the new law will force her to “incur substantial time and expense” to correct her identification documents.

Joining Eaton in the amended complaint are Carolyn Q. Coleman, an African-American county commissioner from Guilford County; Mary Perry, an 84-year-old Wendell resident; and Armenta Eaton, 64, also of Franklin County.

Three African-American college students – Baheeyah Madany, 20, an N.C. Central University business major; Jocelyn Andreka Ferguson-Kelly, 19, at Winston-Salem State University; and Faith Jackson, a Winston-Salem State nursing major – have added their names to the complaint. They contend the new ID restrictions will render them ineligible to vote unless each obtains the required identification.

Federal government sues

In September, the Obama administration decided to sue North Carolina to block the new voting rules, including the oft-debated photo ID provision.

In announcing the federal government’s plans, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder contended that his office would show that key provisions of North Carolina’s elections law are “both discriminatory in intent and in impact.”

The complaint was filed in North Carolina’s Middle District, where the NAACP and other civil rights groups have filed their recent challenges of the new elections law.

The Republican-led legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory have voiced support for the law changes, particularly the voter ID provision, arguing that the measures were necessary to prevent the possibility of voter fraud.

Critics have said the measures were designed to suppress the votes of Democrats in a state where few voter fraud cases have been brought.

The ID provision that goes into effect for the 2016 elections requires voters to show a valid, government-issued ID before casting a ballot.

Other provisions trouble the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department and plaintiffs in the NAACP lawsuit. Some of them begin in 2014.

Among the provisions are:

• The early voting period will be one week shorter. County election boards, however, are required to provide the same number of hours for early voting.

• Straight-ticket voting will be prohibited, and candidates will appear on the ballot in alphabetical order by party – beginning with the party whose nominee for governor received the most votes in the most recent election.

• People no longer will be able to register and vote on the same day.

• Voters who show up at the wrong precinct no longer will be able to cast a vote there with a provisional ballot.

In 2016, voters will have to show one of eight authorized photo IDs: an N.C. driver’s license that has not expired, a special ID card for nondrivers, a driver’s license issued by another state but only within 90 days of the voter’s registration, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a veteran’s ID card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a tribal enrollment card issued by the federal government, or a tribal ID card recognized by the state. Student IDs are not included.

Voters without a valid ID will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. But to have it count, they must go to the elections board within six days (nine in presidential elections) and show a valid ID. Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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