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Big Voting Changes Coming to the South in 2014

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By Brentin Mock
Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

(Special from Facing South) – Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin blogged in The New Yorker recently that voting rights cases will be one of the top seven legal stories of 2014.

“After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County case, several Republican-dominated states immediately tightened their laws to make it harder to voter,” he wrote.

While legal decisions on voting rights are pending right now in Northern states including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, many of the big stories will come from the South. With new election rules in place, next year will prove pivotal for observing how these changes might disrupt voting practices, especially for the upcoming mid-term elections.

Here is a round-up of Southern states where voters face major shakeups:

North Carolina

The section of North Carolina’s far-reaching new elections law that has gotten the most attention is the requirement for certain forms of photo identification to vote, but that provision won’t kick in until 2016 — unless ongoing litigation overturns it. However, the law makes other election changes that voters should be aware of.

One is a change in how provisional ballots will or won’t be counted. Since 2007, if you happened to be in the wrong precinct when attempting to vote—what’s been dubbed “right church/wrong pew” voting—you could cast a provisional ballot and prove later that you are registered and eligible to vote. But as of 2014, those who show up at the wrong precinct will not be allowed to vote.

Also changing in 2014 is the number of days for early voting — 10, down from the 17 that were available before. The new law also eliminates same-day voter registration. North Carolina is currently tied up in litigation around those two changes, along with the voter ID requirement, because of possible racially discriminatory effects.

And the changes don’t stop there: North Carolina voters will no longer have the option to vote for all the candidates of a preferred party—straight-ticket voting—in one action. There will be more partisan poll observers allowed in precincts, even if not from the same neighborhood. And it will be easier for any voter to challenge another’s eligibility, which can slow down if not halt challenged voters’ access to their ballots.

It’s for these reasons that North Carolina’s voting law has been called the “most restrictive” in the nation.

Alabama

Alabama was among the first states to adopt a voter ID law, passing one in 2003 and then in 2011 tightening restrictions around what kind of ID could be used. The state delayed the effective date of the law until 2014, bypassing all of the legal challenges that have confronted and stymied other states that tried to implement voter ID earlier, such as Texas and South Carolina.

Like those two states, Alabama once had to submit its election laws to the federal government for approval under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act because of its history of racial discrimination at the polls. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer invalidated the coverage formula for Section Five and released those states and others across the South from this obligation.

That Supreme Court ruling resulted from a challenge to Section Five by Alabama’s own Shelby County—a chronic violator of voting rights protections.

Arkansas

In 2013, the GOP-dominated Arkansas legislature passed a voter ID law that was vetoed by Gov. Mike Beebe (D) but then restored by lawmakers. As of Jan. 1, 2014, Arkansas voters will need a a driver’s license, concealed carry license, a U.S. passport, state or federal government employee ID, U.S. military ID, college ID card or public assistance ID card in order to vote.

Each of the state’s 75 counties now has machines that will issue free photo IDs to those without one so that they can vote. But the problem with free photo IDs, as voters learned in Texas and Pennsylvania, is that they don’t always meet the needs of voters. That’s because if citizens don’t have the underlying documents needed like a birth certificate or Social Security card, then they can’t get the ID.

The state’s ACLU is watching the voter ID rollout and says it may challenge it.

Florida

There’s rarely a year that goes by that doesn’t involve voter controversies in Florida. In 2012, it became the poster child for states with the longest waiting times for voters. Those delays were attributed to the cuts Florida’s legislature made to early voting, which North Carolina appears to have mimicked. Florida lawmakers learned their lesson and restored the full early voting period.

Then in November 2013, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive stating that voters had to deliver or mail absentee ballots directly to their county’s supervisor of elections. Previously, voters could drop off absentee ballots at other sites like early voting polling locations.

One elections official has said she will defy the directive out of concern for its effect on an upcoming January primary election: Pinellas County election supervisor Deborah Clark said her voters are accustomed to using to two library branches and three tax collector offices for dropping off ballots, and she will allow them to do so next year.

Detzner said he won’t stand in Clark’s way for that election, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But he has not changed his directive, which means it’s still on for the rest of the state.

Mississippi

A photo voter ID law was passed in Mississippi through ballot referendum in 2012, but its implementation was slowed by a pending federal review when Voting Rights Act Section Five oversight was still in place. Immediately after the Supreme Court stripped that oversight away, Mississippi’s Secretary of State announced the state was moving forward with the law.

It’s now scheduled to kick in in June 2014, despite data showing that African Americans in the state are more likely to lack photo ID than white voters. But like North Carolina, Mississippi has a Democratic attorney general who is not in full support of the voter ID law, which could help in terms of oversight.

But the new law probably won’t change the fact that Mississippi perennially comes in dead last among all states in voter participation, according to the Pew Center on the States’ Election Performance Index.

Virginia

Virginia was another of the former Section Five Voting Rights Act states that passed a voter ID mandate. But its 2012 law initially passed federal scrutiny, meaning the government found no racial discrimination would result. The law allowed an expansive set of identification to be used for voting, including those without photos of the voter.

But in 2013, Virginia passed another voter ID law that narrowed the list of IDs eligible for voting and took all non-photo forms off the table. The gutting of the Voting Rights Act gave the state a clear path to implement the law without federal review, and it will go into effect on July 1, 2014. If a Virginia voter shows up at a polling place without ID, he or she can vote provisionally but will have to visit the electoral board by noon of the third day after the election with the required ID in order for the vote to count.

In a positive development for voting rights in 2013, Virginia eased restrictions on voting imposed on those with nonviolent felony convictions. A new governor, Terry McAuliffe, will take office in 2014, and voting rights advocates expect him to lift those restrictions even further.

This article originally published in the December 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Haitians Challenge Injustice in Dominican Republic

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By D. Kevin McNeir
Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times

Last September, the high court of the Dominican Republic [DR] ruled that thousands of men, women and children of Haitian descent would retroactively lose their citizenship — even if they were born in the Dominican Republic, allegedly because they were “undocumented.” But after public outcry from Haitians in the Diaspora, including here in Miami, and from Blacks across the country, the U.S. State Department recently commented on a plan by the DR to restore legal status to those affected by the controversial citizenship ruling. The State Department said it still has “deep concerns” about the impact the decision will have.

“We’ve urged the government to continue close consultation with international partners and civil society to identify and . . . address, in a humane way, concerns regarding the planned scope and reach to affected persons,” said a State Department spokesperson.

Magalie Austin, chairperson of the Miami-based Haitian Americans for Progress, said that her organization appreciates the U.S. government’s expressed concern, she believes “it will take a coalition of organizations and countries to increase awareness of this issue and to pressure the Dominican Republic to restore the legal status of Dominicans of Haitian descent.”

Austin also pointed out that there are several reasons why Dominican officials supported the ruling including: a political party that wins if Dominicans of Haitian descent are no longer allowed to vote; and the creation of a permanent underclass that would be working on far below minimum wage for the owners of the largest sugar cane plantations.

“Most people in the [local] community are shocked by the ruling and weren’t aware of the history of racism in the Dominican Republic,” she added. “However, there is a significant portion, particularly the Haitian American community, who is not surprised by the discrimination . . . The racism isn’t just perceived. This is about the moral lessons that the world needs to live by: never be a perpetrator, never be a victim and never be a bystander. This kind of heinous act on the part of the government can never be allowed to happen without the world taking a stand.”

Miami stands in solidarity

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had this to say: “It is impossible to deny that in the Dominican Republic there is a long history of shameful discrimination against Haitians living there. Racial discrimination likely played a role in the ruling and this is part of why — as a longtime civil rights activist — that I am so committed to undoing this injustice. As Dr. King said, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

She added that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [IACHR], which was established to investigate these kinds of abuses, began a formal investigation in early December.

“In a recent Congressional letter that I along with Congressman Joseph Kennedy [MA] led more than a dozen colleagues in submitting,” she said. “I requested that Dominican President Medina wait until the IACHR has released its preliminary recommendations before implementing the court’s decision. If he fails to honor this request, we will need to consider all economic options.”

Caribbean Nations Forced to Take Back Thousands of Deportees in 2013

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Dominican Republic and Jamaica among top 10 receiving states

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Caribbean and Latin America nations topped the list of foreign countries around the world which were forced to accept deportees from the United States in the last fiscal year.

Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Nicaragua and Jamaica in that order led all countries with well over 300,000 out of the 368,644 immigrants who were showed the immigration door and forcibly returned to their respective birthplaces.

The Dominican Republic was at the top of the group of Caribbean countries with 2,462 deportees while Jamaica had to accept 1,119 during 2013. Between them Haiti, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Bahamas, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean received less than 2,000 deportees.

The new figures released by the Department of Homeland Security showed an overall 10 per cent decline in deportees when compared with the previous year when 410,000 foreign-born residents were removed from the country, most of them for over-staying the time they were first given by officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement on their arrival.

Although the number has fallen, the picture is unlikely to result in an easing of the pressure on the Administration to end its aggressive approach to deporting immigrants. U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, a Democrat of Brooklyn, has openly called for a suspension of the deportations until Congress has acted on the comprehensive immigration reform proposals which were approved by the Senate several months ago but which were blocked in the House of Representatives by Republicans, who charge that the pathway to citizenship was a form of amnesty that rewarded undocumented immigrants for breaking the law.

But immigration advocates, including the New York Immigration Coalition have been arguing that deportations were too harsh a treatment for most of the people who weren’t “illegal aliens” but were immigrants who “were out of status,” meaning they were in the country without an extension of their original allotted time.

The new numbers are expected to trigger a fresh debate about undocumented immigrants and are likely to heighten the divide between the Republicans in the House and their Democratic colleagues. The Republicans are expected to continue to insist that far too many people were in the country illegally and any pathway to citizenship would be an inducement to others to enter the country without permission or remain in the country. But the Democrats are expected to counter that argument by indicating that the Administration was enforcing the way while insisting on a humane way to deal with people already in the country.

The Administration, said John Sandweg, acting Director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was “enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way, meeting our enforcement priorities by focusing on convicted criminals while also continuing to secure our nation’s borders.”

Like Clarke, U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a freshman lawmaker from Brooklyn, has called on the Republican House leadership in Washington to bring the immigration reform bill to the floor of the chamber for debate and ultimately for action./

U.S. Congressmen, Charles Rangel of Manhattan and Gregory Meeks, s Democrat from Queens who has been in the lower House for more than a decade, have both called on the “Republican majority” to bring the reform proposals to a vote.

Black Girls Code Invites Young Women Into the Tech World

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By Tamerra Griffin
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On Saturday, Dec. 14, as snow flurried around the city, Jamie Landeau diligently scribbled down notes, her pink-flowered pen bobbing above the page. The 7-year-old Bronx native then turned to whisper to a nearby friend, causing an eruption of giggles. She eventually turned back to the laptop in front of her and began to type.

This could be a scene extracted from a typical school day anywhere in the country, but what Landeau was participating in that Saturday was once only considered ordinary in California’s Silicon Valley. She was learning how to code.

On Dec. 14, Black Girls Code, an organization aimed at exposing young Black girls to computer science and technology, teamed up with Google to host a day-long mobile app training course. While tourists wound their way through shops on the first floor of Chelsea Market in pursuit of gourmet waffles, about 60 girls of color between 7 and 17 years of age hunched over keyboards and cellphones on the second floor of Google’s Chelsea headquarters, stringing together sequences of commands to create a game.

Throughout the day, the coders-in-training mirrored the instructions given by 29-year-old Donna Knutt, who owns a web development and marketing consulting business. Volunteers from Black Girls Code and Google were also on hand to answer the girls’ questions.

The proliferation of web-based businesses and the ease with which those who are not descendants of the late Steve Jobs can learn computer science have made coding and programming less intimidating and highly covetable skills. Like most areas in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, however, women and racial minorities are severely underrepresented. Black Girls Code is one response to this disparity.

Although Landeau aspires to become a writer, she enjoys coding because it requires her to type out her thoughts. She sees creative writing and coding as one in the same, not a far cry from those who equate coding to learning a new language.

Jessenia Diaz, Landeau’s mother, decided to introduce her daughter to coding after seeing a video online that featured “Mark Zuckerberg and a whole bunch of stars” talking about how they learned to code. The video piqued her curiosity, and after some Google-driven research, she came across Black Girls Code. Diaz enrolled Landeau in her first course in October and said that her daughter “couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Even though the age requirement for the Black Girls Code mobile app event begins at 10, Diaz was able to register her daughter anyway. Landeau and the other youngsters may have required a bit more assistance in this seminar, but for Diaz, experience and exposure are the primary goals in an unwelcoming economy and job market.

“I went to a traditional school, so everything was pretty much ‘Learn this, know that,’ and you didn’t know why,” said Diaz, who is currently working toward a degree in business. “Now that the job market is so hard, I’m struggling to find ways to reinvent myself and be creative, and I want her to have that. I want her to be able to—if there’s not a job for her—I want her to be able to invent one and do what makes her happy.”

More NYPD Racial Profiling in 2014?

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By Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – “People are angry, they feel betrayed by mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, and we intend to follow him around the city wherever we can find him until he hears our complaints concerning stopping ‘stop and frisk,’” anti-police brutality activist Juanita Young told The Final Call.

Days before his victory in November, Mr. de Blasio reportedly stated at a press conference: “I’ve been saying for a long time. We need to get to reforming stop and frisk and bringing police and community together. And further delay is not going to help the city heal and move forward.”

However Dec. 15 Mr. de Blasio, known as a progressive politician, announced the appointment of stop and frisk innovator William Bratton as police chief. Mr. Bratton served in the same capacity in NYC from 1994 to 1996.

“De Blasio is a pseudo-progressive, a pragmatic, opportunistic politician,” argued Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron (D). Bringing in Bratton, the architect of this “racial profiling” policy is an “insult” a “slap in the face,” the council member told The Final Call. “It is business as usual in NYC,” he added.

According to an analysis released in May by the NY Civil Liberties Union, 532,911 New Yorkers were stopped in 2012—a 22 percent drop from 2011. The NYCLU study noted that 9 out of 10 stopped were innocent and 88 percent of those stopped were Black and Latino and 10 percent were White. Blacks and Latinos comprise 54 percent of the city’s population. The NYPD, according to the NYCLU, defended the policy saying it was keeping streets safe.

“Bratton had a chance—he let his police officers brutalize and kill us—he has blood on his hands,” Councilman Barron said.

The Final Call made contact with Mr. de Blasio’s media team by phone and e-mail, however, there was no response to requests for interviews.

Some say stop and frisk issue is in a procedural tangle given current Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s insistence on appealing a decision by a federal judge, who ruled the NYPD policy systematically violated the 4th amendment and 14th amendment rights of thousands of Black and Latino New Yorkers, and said the court should appoint a monitor to keep watch on how the police make stops.

A three-judge panel representing the Second Court of Appeals put the ruling of Judge Schira Scheindlin on hold in early November, and removed her from the case, saying she had “run afoul” of judicial conduct by failing to appear impartial.

In December, Mayor Bloomberg ordered city attorneys to file a merit brief that will be heard in March 2014 and asks for the entire case to be overturned. Mr. de Blasio has said he would not appeal the federal court’s decision.

On Dec. 16, Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists published a report. It calls for New police commissioner Bratton committing to delivering both safety and respect to all New Yorkers by enforcing a zero tolerance policy for police brutality, especially shootings and the killing of unarmed New Yorkers. It also asks the incoming administration discontinue legal challenges to the federal stop and frisk ruling, and work cooperatively with the court-appointed monitor to ensure remedies include a meaningful role for impacted communities.

“You cannot stop stop and frisk, it is the root of policing,” argued Damon Jones of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. Policing policy must stop marginalizing Blacks and Latinos, Mr. Jones toldThe Final Call.

“The dilemma for de Blasio and Bratton going forward is how the nation’s largest police department will react to the necessary changes that must be implemented such as disciplining officers who don’t follow the new policies,” Mr. Jones said.

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