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Redistricting: The Hidden Side of Voter Suppression

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by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director SCSJ

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

NC Gerrymander Map

NC Gerrymander Map

During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.

“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.

“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”

Relevant court filings are available below:

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2:

Amicus Brief 3

Shoshannah Sayers is the Deputy Director at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Graduating from UNC Chapel Hill School of Law in 2004, Shoshannah immediately went into civil rights work as a Post-Doctoral Scholar at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, where she worked on public education reform and voting rights matters. She then spent a year at the Center for Community Action in Lumberton, North Carolina, doing community organizing and policy analysis for the grassroots nonprofit.

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The True End to the 2014 NCGA Short Session

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legislative building

Legislators finally adjourned for the 2014 short session on Wednesday, August 20th which is almost seven weeks after originally anticipated. You may recall my Week 12 update where I claimed that week was a wrap but it did come with a catch. Legislators wanted time to decide if they needed to come back in November for a special Medicaid and/or Coal Ash Session as well as take up any number of other provisions. By law, legislators had to continue meeting every four days while leadership decided what to do. Legislators held skeleton (or no vote) sessions until they came back on Thursday, August 14th to really wrap up the short session.
Relevant bills with action

After a few committee meetings, Senators created 3 adjournment bills hoping the House would pass at least one of them:

House Joint Resolution 182 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November for a special Medicaid Reform short session.

House Joint Resolution 901 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November to discuss Medicaid Reform, conference committee reports, and a few other measures.

House Joint Resolution 1276 Adjournment: the winning bill that ended session with no plans to return in November. Unless the Governor calls legislators back for a special session, we won’t see legislators passing bills again until the 2015 long session which will start in January.

Legislators also wrapped up a few bills that were awaiting concurrence. Of interest to social workers:

House Bill 369 Criminal Law Changes was passed by both the House and the Senate and presented to the Governor for signature. The bill makes several changes to various criminal laws. Most pressing, section four of the bill directs the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission to work with various organizations, including NASW-NC, to study and develop age appropriate sexual abuse education to be taught in schools to students and educators.

Now that session is truly done for the short session, NASW-NC will now focus on work with our Political Action for Candidate Endorsement Committee (NC PACE) on endorsing candidates that support the social work profession. Through these endorsements, we hope to elect social work friendly candidates that can help advance our profession and support the clients we serve.

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2014 NC Short Session: That’s Hardly a Wrap!

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Senators wrapped up the 2014 short session shortly after a midnight on Friday when they finally approved a state budget. House members  followed by issuing their final votes on Saturday. But there’s a catch, legislators will return this week to agree on an actual adjournment date as the House made more changes to the Senate’s original plan.

On August 14th, legislators will return for a brief additional session to take up any bills that might get vetoed by the Governor, wrap up any bills that got assigned to a conference committee, and attempt to complete nine different other provisions held over in adjournment resolutions. There’s still one more catch, legislators will return again on November 17th for a special session to discuss Medicaid Reform and possibly Coal Ash, and there is no word on how long this session will last.

So, while legislators have adjourned, they have not technically finished working. We should have a better idea of  their plan to meet again in August by the later part of this week.

Relevant Bills with Action:

SB 744 Appropriations Act of 2014: This bill has been in the works since session started. When legislators couldn’t agree, they turned to appointing a 42 member conference committee. Last weekend, they reported that they had come to an agreement. The conference committee budget highlights are below. With the Governor’s signature, this will be the state budget for the 2014 fiscal year. View the Money Report for further explanation on the spending plan with accompanying page numbers listed after each highlight. Please note, it is difficult to capture all the provisions in the budget due to the amazing variety of the social work profession so information below is only a snapshot of changes.

  • Provides funds to support the costs related to the education of children in private psychiatric residential treatment facilities (F-6).
  • Provides funding for one year for group home residents who were determined to be ineligible for Medicaid personal care services on or after January 1, 2013. The maximum monthly payment is set at $464.30 and is based on providing 33 hours of service per eligible recipient (G-3).
  • Reduces General Fund appropriation for the Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) by 3%, leaving a balance of $31,808,889. Cuts are $969,549 (G-4).
  • Changes the income eligibility for the State-County Special Assistance (SA) Program from a method that bases income eligibility on the payment rate for the facility type where the recipient resides, to a method based on the federal poverty level for all recipients regardless of where they reside. The SA eligibility level is set at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. Current recipients of SA are grandfathered in and will continue to receive SA. (G-8).
  • Provides funding to replace $4.5 million in federal block grant funds that counties lost in 2013-14 that was utilized to pay for Child Protective Services (CPS) workers. An additional $2.8 million in funding is provided effective October 1, 2014 to reduce county departments of social services caseloads to an average of 10 families per worker performing Child Protective Services assessments (G-9).
  • Provides $4.5 million for Child Welfare In-Home Services to serve at-risk families (G-9).
  • Provides $218,538 recurring and $125,750 nonrecurring funds for the implementation of drug screening for Work First Benefits applicants (G-10).
  • Provides funding through incentives and rebates to end the waiting list of the Aids Drug Assistance Program (G-11).
  • Provides $2.2 million for community-based crisis services (G-15).
  • Provider rates are cut, once again, by 1% (G-18).
  • Mental Health Drug Management: Authorizes DHHS to impose controls including prior authorization, utilization review criteria, and any other restrictions on mental health drugs (G-18 and pg 87 of the budget).
  • Provision to hold special session in November to discuss Medicaid Reform (pg 87, budget).

Other Bills of Interest with Action:

HB 884 Dropout Prevention/Recovery Pilot Charter School: This bill establishes a two year pilot program for one charter school who has had students drop out. The purpose is to increase graduation rates and reengage students. The bill passed the House and Senate and was presented to the Governor for signature.

SJR 881 Adjournment: This bill directs legislators to adjourn but to return on August 14th and November 17th. As mentioned above, the November special legislative session will be focused on Medicaid Reform.

HJR 1276 Adjournment: The House version of the adjournment resolution. While the dates to return are the same as the Senate, the House has a few more issues to keep alive including any bills related to autism insurance reform. The House gives the Senate until Wednesday, August 6th to take up the new adjournment resolution.

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2014 NC Legislative Short Session Nears End But No Deal on Budget

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Last week, the General Assembly saw more action from the Senate than the House, and Senators have been meeting in Rules Committee the past couple of weeks to pass a few pressing bills. On Thursday, while discussing Medicaid Reform on the Senate floor, Senator Bryant sought an amendment to expand Medicaid. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the amendment failed.

Senators commented that this was the fourth time they voted down to expand Medicaid in the state. The House did meet on Thursday and Friday of last week, but they had little committee activity during the week. Despite filing an adjournment resolution for Friday, July 25th, the House does plan to meet this week. Rumors started over the weekend that legislators have reached another deal on the budget, so we hope to see the proposal this week.

Relevant bills with action:

short sessionHB 1181 Medicaid Modernization: This is the bill that would create a new department to oversee the operation of Medicaid and NC Health Choice run by a seven member appointed board, create full capitation by 2018 (instead of fee for service), integrate physical and behavioral health by 2016, and much more to reform Medicaid in our state. The bill went to committee to push back a few dates in the bill including the creation of the new department from August 1, 2014 to September 1, 2014. Senators will take a third, and final, vote on Monday night. The bill then has to get approval from the House before it is made law. No word yet on the House’s position on the bill.

HB 369 Criminal Law Changes: This bill passed out of the Senate last week and is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill will allow NASW-NC and other partners to work with the Human Trafficking Commission on age appropriate sexual abuse education for students and teachers. The bill also makes several changes to various criminal laws such as expungement for certain offenses and higher penalties for providing inmates with cell phones.

HB 1133 Technical and Other Corrections: A bill that normally marks the end of the legislative session, the House and Senate have been working on a technical corrections bill to tie up loose ends of the session. Usually very technical in nature (spelling errors, corrections to previous bills, etc), the bill had a surprise section that would eliminate the Child Fatality Task Force that makes statewide recommendations to prevent unnecessary deaths of children.

During the existence of the Task Force, childhood death has decreased by as much as 32% in the past three decades. During floor debate, Representative Grier Martin (D-Wake), ran an amendment to eliminate this section of the bill and it passed overwhelmingly. The bill passed out of committee and passed the floor Friday. The bill will now go to the Senate.

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