Mitchell D. Brown

  • Hosted by Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Sponsored by The Ottinger Family Foundation
  • Service location Durham, North Carolina
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Voting Rights/Electoral Participation
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Mitchell’s project concerned the “criminalization of the ballot box” which he defines as: “the abuse of public and private power to intimidate (for fear of criminal prosecution) and otherwise deter political activity by minority citizens.”

One of the biggest voting rights issues in North Carolina and other southern states is that many community members with felony records who have completed their sentence do not know that they are able to restore their right to vote, and thus, they are absent from the political process. This lack of knowledge is intertwined with acts of intimidation aimed at preventing them from utilizing their right to vote and letting their voice be heard. The disenfranchisement of people with felony records and voter intimidation disproportionately affect community members in Black and Brown communities. Mitchell’s project aimed to help community members with felony records who completed their sentence restore their right to vote and worked to combat any efforts to intimidate them as they sought to exercise their right to vote. Additionally, Mitchell’s project sought to replicate restoration efforts made in North Carolina, in other states, utilizing the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s sister organizations in these states.

During Mitchell’s time at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, he learned the value of community engagement and the value of the right to vote. While in college, Mitchell fought against a North Carolina Voter ID bill that sought to disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color and college students. Mitchell returned to North Carolina as a civil rights lawyer for his Fellowship, the place of his familial roots and the place where he learned the value of letting his voice be heard.

Fellowship Plans

During his ten-year Fellowship, Mitchell:

  • Planned and hosted a 2019 convening for local, state, and national stakeholders regarding the criminalization of the ballot box. The convening was titled “Navigating the Rise of Voter Prosecutions: Charting a Path of Resistance” for the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis.
  • Created the “Criminalization of the Ballot Box” Initiative at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in 2020
  • Presented at law review symposiums, community meetings, and student organizational meetings about the criminalization of the ballot box and how we can fight back against the scourge of voter prosecutions in NC, but also in other states.
  • Wrote a policy paper titled: “The Criminalization of the Ballot Box: Navigating the Rise of Voter Prosecutions, Charting a Path of Resistance.”
  • Filed a case challenging North Carolina’s Voter Prosecution Statute.

Next Steps

Mitchell will be staying at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in a permanent counsel capacity. Mitchell will continue to work on issues surrounding the criminalization of the ballot box and other voting rights issues.

Media

Federal court ruling requires witness signature on absentee ballots in North Carolina

SCSJ takes on new project targeting criminalization at the ballot box

Making Your Voice Heard at the Ballot Box

Federal Lawsuit Challenges North Carolina Felony Voting Law

Federal Lawsuit Challenges North Carolina Felony Voting Law

Activist groups are helping formerly incarcerated Floridians vote by paying their outstanding fees and fines

Opinion: Arrested for Voting? Hervis Rogers and The Case Against Disappearing Our Voters

U.S. Supreme Court weakens federal voting protections

Fewer people voted illegally in 2020, but voting rights groups want the state to stop punishing people who say they voted by mistake.

Video: The Criminalization of the Ballot Box: Navigating the Rise of Voter Prosecution | Mitchell Brown

The Criminalization of the Ballot Box: Navigating the Rise of Voter Prosecutions, Charting a Path of Resistance

Without the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, community members are not able to express their opinions about issues that directly affect their communities. Without the right to vote, many community members are silenced and forgotten. That must change.

Mitchell Brown /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

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