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5 Things to Know: NC Supreme Court Deals Blow to Voting Rights

...and four more stories from April 23-29, 2023

people voting in voting booths

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday dealt a major blow to voting rights statewide. (AdobeStock)

NC Supreme Court Deals Blow to Voting Rights

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday dealt a major blow to voting rights statewide as it struck down a slew of decisions made by a previous court, all of which involved elections and voting access.

The court reversed three decisions: Harper v. Hall, opening the way for the Republican-led legislature to draw openly gerrymandered district maps that favor Republican candidates; CSI v. Moore, which will strip convicted felons of the right to vote; and Holmes v. Moore, reinstating a voter ID law that has been found to disproportionately affect Black voters and those in other communities of color.

All three rulings were made by conservatives along party lines, in 5-2 votes following the new layout of the court based on last November’s elections. Voting rights advocates across the state quickly voiced their disgust with Friday’s rulings.

“Over the years, the state Supreme Court has shown itself to be of the people, moving to protect voters against attacks. Instead, today’s disappointing rulings take away the people’s voice — piling on to the recent blows to democracy, eroding voter access, and undermining fair representation,” wrote Cheryl Carter, co-executive director of Democracy North Carolina, in a statement.

In Raleigh, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton was also quick to respond to the news.

“This is a trio of tragic rulings for voters across our state brought to us by the radical Republican majority in control of our courts that are specifically designed to silence voters, especially Black and Brown voters,” Clayton wrote in a statement on Friday afternoon. “We should be making it easier to vote — not harder. Today, the Republican majority court pushed their own partisan goals instead of defending our democracy and the freedom of North Carolinians to choose their elected leaders — a shameful and un-American power grab that will harm North Carolinians.”

The CSI v. Moore reversal alone will strip the voting rights from around 56,000 people under felony supervision around the state who regained those rights in March 2022 when a three-judge panel ruled that a Jim Crow-era law restricting their voting rights was racially discriminatory in its intent.

‘Choose Your Future’ Bill Moves Through Legislature

Senate Bill 406 and its companion, House Bill 823, titled the “Choose Your School, Choose You Future” bills, are making progress through the North Carolina General Assembly, concerning opponents who say the bills would worsen inequity in statewide education if passed.

Should it pass, SB 409 would expand eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which helps families who make below a certain amount of income pay for fees and tuition at qualifying non-public schools. The bill would remove income eligibility requirements for the program and eliminate the stipulation that students had to have attended public school in the past. 

Introduced as a way for parents to have more choices about which schools their children go to, opponents worry that it will further disrupt public school funding and exacerbate existing racial and economic inequities in North Carolina school systems.

N.C. House Rep. Tricia Cotham, who announced her switch to the Republican Party in April just four months after running and winning her seat as a Democrat, is a lead supporter of both bills, introducing HB 823 on April 18 and joining Republican House leader Tim Moore for a press conference heralding the bills this week. 

On the latest of episode of Queen City Nerve’s Nooze Hounds podcast, new Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Chair Drew Kromer theorized that the reason behind Cotham’s switch is her desire for Republicans to make her Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The North Carolina NAACP released a press release opposing the bill on Thursday, stating that it would “undermine public education” throughout the state. 

“Private schools have a history of exclusion and discrimination, and removing income caps would only widen the gap between wealthy and low-income families,” NC NAACP President Deborah Maxwell said in the release. “This bill would benefit only a select few, while depriving the majority of North Carolina students of the resources they need to thrive.”

New Option for Eastland Unveiled

News broke on Thursday that a new developer had thrown its hat into the ring to fill the 20 acres left empty by David Tepper when he pulled his project from the upcoming Eastland Yards redevelopment.

A group going by QC East submitted a fourth proposal to develop the space just as time was running out on a deadline extension implemented by Charlotte City Council in February after the first three proposals submitted were found to be lacking by council.

A rendering of potential design for the proposed QC East development.

The new proposal would be an $83-million partnership between three existing companies — Charlotte Soccer Academy, Southern Entertainment and Carolina Esports Hub — that would come together to build a gaming, athletic and concert venue on the land without a plan, as reported by Charlotte Observer’s Genna Contino on Thursday.

Council member Tariq Bokhari is a minority owner of Carolina Esports Hub and appears to have been involved with kick-starting this fourth proposal. While he’s not legally obliged to recuse himself from the conversations or votes by council regarding the proposal because his share does not exceed 10%, he appears to have already committed to doing so in the name of transparency, according to Contino’s reporting.

Council is expected to discuss where the proposal stands in comparison to the other three during Monday’s committee discussions. Queen City Nerve will have more in our coverage of that meeting.

CMS Presents Proposed Budget for Coming Year

At its meeting on Tuesday night, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education approved a $2.1 billion proposed operating budget for the 2023-’24 school year, including one-time COVID federal funding of $227.4 million. The proposed budget seeks $596.9 million from the county, an increase of $39 million (7%) over last year’s appropriation.

According to a release from CMS, the proposed increase includes an investment of Mecklenburg County funds to accommodate anticipated 5.5% state pay raises for teachers, other certified staff, principals, and non-certified staff.

The district’s proposed budget will be presented to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, a contentious endeavor in recent years, at its upcoming meeting on May 11. County manager Dena Diorio will then present the county’s proposed budget, including CMS funding to commissioners at their May 18 meeting.

Second Ward High School Prepares for Centennial Celebrations

Second Ward High School will be honored with a state resolution next week in commemoration of the historic school’s 100-year anniversary. According to the Charlotte Observer, the NC State Board of Education will announce a resolution honoring the school and its national alumni association on Thursday, May 4, kicking off a slew of celebration scheduled to go through summer.

Opened in 1923 and closed in 1969 during the razing of the historically Black Brooklyn neighborhood in the name of “urban renewal,” former students of the school have long fought for its place in local lore. The Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation is a major reason why the school’s gym is one of the only few Brooklyn buildings that are left standing today.

Second Ward High School became Charlotte’s first Black public high school in 1923. (Photo courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)

Established in 1980 by Second Ward High School alumnae Dr. Mildred Baxter-Davis, Louis C. Coleman and Cecelia Jackson Wilson, the Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation has fought to preserve the memory and what’s left physically of its namesake school.

Since then, the foundation has held annual meetings and reunions; created a number of history exhibits; saved stories and images from the school and the Brooklyn neighborhood; and shared the school’s legacy through film, exhibits, oral history recordings and multimedia projects.

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