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N.C. Court to Decide the Fate of Voting Rights for Blacks

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Two pivotal court cases in North Carolina will determine the balance of political power in the state for years to come, and may signal the future of voting rights nationwide, according to civil rights and voting rights advocates working in the state.

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder that gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina state legislators passed H.B. 589, which shortened early voting by a week, eliminated same day registration during the early voting period, prohibited voters from casting out-of-precinct provisional ballots, expanded the ability to challenge voters at the polls, removed the pre-registration program for 16 and 17 years-olds and implemented a strict photo ID requirement. Lawmakers eased the photo ID requirement leading up to the N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory court case.

In that case, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that H.B. 589 discriminates against Black and other minority voters.

Denise Lieberman, a senior attorney with the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights group, called the N.C. voting law “the most onerous voting law in the country” and said that it combines nearly every conceivable voter suppression tactic to attack voting at every step of the process.

“[H.B. 589] makes it harder to register to vote, harder to cast a ballot, and harder to have that ballot counted,” said Lieberman.

During the trial, lawyers for the state chapter of the NAACP presented clear evidence that each of these provisions was designed with the intent to discriminate and has the impact of disproportionately burdening the right to vote for African American and Latino voters in North Carolina, said Lieberman.

“Our lawsuit argued that H.B. 589 violates Section 2 of the VRA as well as 14th and 15th amendments of the United States Constitution,” Lieberman added.

Rev. William Barber II, president of N.C. State Conference of the NAACP and the convener of Moral Monday Movement, called H.B. 589 “the worst and the most cynical voter suppression law in the country” and said that the attempts to roll back opportunities put in place to overcome past and ongoing discrimination are reminiscent of the days of Jim Crow.

“We have never seen since the days of Jim Crow the attempt to roll back opportunities and provision put in our voting policies to overcome past barriers to overcome past discrimination and continuing barriers and continuing discrimination. We know that whole premise of this law was fraudulent, because it was the claim of fraud,” said Barber, adding that there has been no evidence of voting fraud in the state.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a non-partisan public policy and law institute, voter impersonation at the polls is more rare than someone getting struck by lightning.

“We know that African Americans and Latinos were far more likely to use same day registration out-of-precinct voting and the first week of early voting and the other measures that were restricted and eliminated by H.B. 589, what’s more is that we know that lawmakers knew that before they passed the H.B. 589, because they implemented those measures precisely to make voting more accessible for the very communities that ended up using them the most,” said Lieberman. “That evidence was present, front and center to lawmakers when they introduced H.B. 589.”

Lieberman continued: “We also know that they waited, they waited until the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder that gutted the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, waited until that happened until they knew that they were not going to be subject to Section 5 pre-clearance provision before moving forward with the bill.”

North Carolina lawmakers revised the voting maps in 2011 following the 2010 census. Last spring, the United States Supreme Court ordered the state Supreme Court to revisit a December 2014 ruling that found the maps lawful.

The Associated Press reported that Republicans used the North Carolina maps in the 2012 and 2014 elections to gain veto-proof majorities in the state legislature and to win 10 of the 13 seats in the state’s congressional delegation.

Anita Earls, the executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said that it has always been understood that the Voting Rights Act not only protected the right to cast a ballot, but also the notion that each vote carried the same value. In the court case challenging North Carolina’s revised voting maps, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that North Carolina’s voting maps diluted the power of the Black vote by intentionally “stacking and packing” Black residents into racially gerrymandered districts.

“These are the kind of battles that we really thought that we had passed and the kind of battles that continue to be reopened when you do something like gut the Voting Rights Act and basically say, ‘That it’s open season on Black and minority voters,’” said Barber.

Laurel Ashton, the field secretary for the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, said,

“We are seeing both demographic shifts and a new generation of voters that are changing Southern voting patterns. The attacks on Black and Brown voting rights is a response to these changes and while White people may not be the target, its consequences may impact us all,” said Ashton.

The attacks on voting rights are not limited to the South. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that 15 states will have new restrictive voting laws in place for the 2016 presidential election.

“Let me be clear, the stakes here are high,” explained Lieberman. “The outcome of this case will determine whether countless voters of color in North Carolina will have their right to vote denied or abridged in the 2016 elections and beyond.

Lieberman continued: “This case will test the enduring strength of the Voting Rights Act and its ability to protect voters in states across the country in the future.

Lieberman said that the law passed in North Carolina is exactly the type of voter suppression tactic that the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent.

Anita Earls, the executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said that an injunction levied against H.B. 589 by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is still in place, so N.C. voters will still have access to same day registration and will also be able to cast out-of-precinct ballots in municipal elections in 2015.

On September 1, a coalition of civil rights groups delivered letters to members of the U.S. Congress in an effort to press the lawmakers into action around voting rights and Barber vowed to lead protests in state districts represented by lawmakers who supported H.B. 589.

The N.C. State Conference NAACP president also urged the U.S. Congress to pass the 2015 Voting Rights Act Amendment (VRAA) that was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) earlier this year.

“This is a serious time,” said Barber. “This is a time when America must decide, and North Carolina shows this clearly, how we’re going to honor history and move forward or honor history and go backwards.”

Barber added: “We have to win, because if we don’t win, the whole country loses.”

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Dark Money in Politics Threatens Black Interests

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The explosion of “dark money” spent in the political system in the United States threatens racial equity in the United States making it harder for Blacks and other minorities to gain a foothold in the middle class and fully participate in the democracy, according to a recent report by Demos, a public policy group.

“Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. [But] what they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion in federal business and support,” the report said.

When the United States Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protections prevented the government from limiting nonprofits from making independent political contributions in the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, voting rights advocates predicted a sea change in spending on elections.

The Demos report said that since the ruling, dark money flooded into the system and in 2016 it’s only predicted to get worse.

Dark money is generally defined as funds given to nonprofit organizations to influence elections without the group disclosing the sources of the their funding.

The report said that political donations could influence lawmakers on a number of critical issues that have a significant impact on communities of color, including the minimum wage, paid sick leave and criminal justice reform.

“Secret corporate political spending threatens the integrity of our democratic self-government, as those with the deepest pockets can overwhelm other voices,” the report said. “This financial influence leads to the needs and wants of corporations being prioritized and can skew important public policy outcomes, often in ways that perpetuate racial inequities.”

The report noted that taxpayers foot the bill for government contractors who can then spend money on programs and lobbying efforts that do little to benefit people of color.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements, and property leases go to private companies that pay low wages, provide few benefits, and offer employees little opportunity to work their way into the middle class,” the report said and because people of color make up a disproportionate share of the low-wage workforce, they are directly impacted when companies argue against raising the minimum wage.

The biggest players in the for-profit prison industry also seem to benefit from their relationships with elected officials, but current regulations prevent the public from knowing the full extent of their political expenditures.

Citing research by the Center for Responsive Politics, the report said that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) spent $3.698 million on lobbying federal officials and the PACs and employees of these companies contributed $552,636 to federal campaigns in 2014.

“But this may only be a fraction of what these companies have filtered into the federal political system because it includes only those contributions that have been disclosed. There is no way of knowing how much money these companies have funneled into the political process through 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations,” the report said. “The payout for CCA, GEO, and MTC’s efforts: in 2013 and 2014, these companies received over $1.561 billion in contracts from the federal government.”

Even though, Whites account for 62.2 percent of the U.S. population, more than 82 percent of Congress is White, the report said. Roughly 14 percent of the population identified as Black, but Blacks account for less than 9 percent of U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Because companies are more likely to spend money to elect White candidates instead of minority candidates, underrepresentation of minorities in political offices, is sure to continue, despite shifting demographics.

The Demos brief recommended that President Barack Obama issue an executive order requiring federal contractors disclose political donations.

“This Order would be an important first step in bringing corporate political spending out of the dark and into the light,” to illuminate what candidates are in the pockets of big businesses with interests that diverge from those of the American public,” the report said, “and, in particular, people of color.”

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Farrakhan: “Justice or Else” March Just the Beginning

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In a wide-ranging conference call with the Black Press, the Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said the upcoming “Justice or Else” rally set for October 10 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March is just the beginning of the movement.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA and the national director of the 1995 Million Man March, moderated the call, fielding pooled questions from dozens of publishers and editors from Black newspapers across the country.

Farrakhan said that walking down the steps of the United States Capitol building and seeing Black men standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder all the way down to the Washington Monument and over to the Lincoln Memorial was his most memorable experience from the Million Man March on October 16, 1995. The minister boasted that the men went home and recommitted themselves to their families and wives, others registered to vote, and gang members left their weapons at home.

Critics, however, charged that little long-lasting follow-up was done on the local level.

Farrakhan said that those who benefit from White supremacy fear the power of unified Blacks, Latinos and all minority people and have continued to work against that unity, since the 1995 march.

Farrakhan said that since the Million Man March, the Black community is not as strong as it should be, so the struggle for “Justice or Else” must take place on two fronts.

“We can not go to Washington appeal to our government to intercede to see that Black men and women tried in their courts get justice in accordance with the law and leave our communities in shambles with us killing one another,” said Farrakhan. “We as men and women must take responsibility for our community and rid our community of fratricidal conflict and that strengthens us as we go to our government to demand justice.”

Farrakhan said that he thanked God for the women who ignited the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“We honor the young ladies that fashioned that cry and all who have joined on but no one can rob the young sisters of the honor that God used [them] to say something that caught on and today Black lives do matter,” he said. “Let’s go to work in our communities to make sure that all of our people fall in love with their Blackness and say, ‘Black lives matter’ and Black love will make sure that Black lives matter.”

The truth matters, too.

The United States Park Police (USPP) estimate of 400,000 attendants at the original march wildly contradicted the estimated count provided by march organizers, which was roughly 1.5 million.

Working with Boston University, the Park Service later revised its estimate to 837,214 – more than twice the original estimate. With a 20 percent margin of error, the size of the crowd could have been 655,000 to 1.1 million men, according to Farouk El-Baz, director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing. Even the lowest revised estimate was more than twice the size of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Following the controversy over the number of people attending the Million Man March, Congress prohibited the Park Service from making official estimates.

Unlike the Million Man March that primarily focused on the empowerment of men of color, the call for “Justice or Else” is meant to address the struggle for justice for Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, women, military veterans and poor Whites, everyone who feels deprived in America.

“Even though are struggles may be different, justice is what we seek for all,” said Minister Farrakhan.

The minister also praised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work during the last years of his life that revolved around economic equality, unionization and labor rights, and land ownership.

Minister Farrakhan noted that Blacks were largely shut out of the prosperity enjoyed by White settlers following the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Blacks weren’t considered citizens in 1862, a key eligibility requirement that prevented them from claiming any of the millions of acres of free land west of the Mississippi River granted to White settlers by the United States government.

“We have to have land, brothers and sisters, as a basis for economic development,” said Minister Farrakhan, proposing a legislative agenda that would promote land ownership in the Black community.

Farrakhan encouraged Black business owners to advertise in the Black Press and buy subscriptions to community newspapers, and that part of the estimated $1.1 trillion in annual buying power wielded by the Black community be used to build hospitals, factories and to support Black colleges.

He also lamented the anger and frustration that young people have expressed across the nation and that uncontrolled and misdirected anger can lead to great destruction.

“We don’t have a lot of time, but we can turn the anger of our community into production,” the minister continued, adding that young people will be more than eager to live productive lives rather than lives of crime and suffering and savage behavior, if properly guided.

As the presidential election approaches, Minister Farrakhan warned Blacks against casting their votes foolishly and continuing to vote for the Democratic Party that could and should do more for the Black community. He added that he doesn’t see himself voting for Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) or Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.).

He made no mention of Willie Wilson, the Black Chicago businessman who is also running for president as a Democrat.

“The Black vote is a powerful vote,” said Minister Farrakhan. “But unless any of these candidates that are running for president of the United States speak to the need for justice for those that are deprived, why should we give them our vote?”

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