Members of a faction of the The NAACP state conference held a press conference Wednesday to accuse the national NAACP of disenfranchising North Carolina members.
A central part of the NAACP’s mission to advance people of color has long been to strengthen access to elections. But the national NAACP suppressed its own members’ voting rights in internal elections, said the Reverend Cardes Brown, a longtime NAACP member and civil rights leader.
Brown’s serious accusations are the latest publicly expressed in a heated dispute gripping North Carolina’s NAACP.
One camp accuses the state’s former NAACP leaders of financial mismanagement and more. Brown and other members of the independent Justice Coalition USA accuse the national NAACP of taking unfair disciplinary action against that state’s conference and its former leader, the late Reverend Anthony Spearman.
In 2020, the national NAACP rolled out a new process by which its members were to vote in conference elections. The all-electronic voting system was intended to help members vote remotely during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said.
“But that was unconstitutional,” Ana Ilarraza-Blackburn, a member of the NAACP Moore County chapter and the NAACP’s first Latino immigrant liaison, said Wednesday. “I went to vote that morning and had a hard time voting. Then my NAACP branch president Moore called to say that my vote had been rejected and everyone who had voted that morning had been rejected because there were so many problems with this system.
Ilarraza-Blackburn and Brown suggested the electronic system skewed the results of the 2021 vote and distorted what voters wanted. JThey called on the national organization to revise its process ahead of the vote scheduled for November.
“A few years ago when we had the electronic election, if one of the members hadn’t spoken to me, there would have been no way in this world,” said Eileen Jones, 77, longtime NAACP member who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference. “…I don’t know how many other people need it, but I definitely need a vote in person. I need paper to watch.
The national NAACP released a statement last year defending the fairness of the North Carolina conference’s 2021 election. He claimed that all units across the country had enough time to comply with the new system.
“There were no grievances filed that warranted a re-administration of the election,” the statement said, referring to complaints about the North Carolina ballot.
Regarding the Justice Coalition, she said: “There is no unit of the Association identified or authorized to act as the North Carolina Justice Coalition. This group has no status or affiliation with the NAACP.
Brown said Wednesday he understands the motivation behind all-electronic voting at the height of the pandemic.
“But it’s not 2020,” he said. “And all of a sudden in 2022, when many of these restrictions have been lifted, we’re being asked, ordered, ordered to vote electronically.”
National representatives have not confirmed to The N&O whether this year’s internal elections will be held with electronic voting only. Jeanette McCarthy Wallace, the NAACP’s general counsel, said she could not comment on the organization’s internal affairs.
Brown and other Justice Coalition members spoke to a small crowd Wednesday at the New Light Missionary Baptist Church in Greensboro where Brown has pastored for the past 47 years. They addressed several issues reported by The News & Observer in August regarding the severe challenges facing North Carolina’s NAACP.
One is the conflict between some members of the NC NAACP and national leaders who place the state organization in a punitive “administration”. Allegations of financial mismanagement during Spearman’s leadership were one of the reasons given for the takeover.
In addition, like hundreds of national and local NAACP affiliates across the country, the NAACP in this state lost its federal tax-exempt status.
Losing its tax-exempt status can undermine an organization’s fundraising efforts and damage its reputation, experts tell The N&O.
After The N&O uncovered and questioned national leaders about the large number of tax-exempt forfeitures, the NAACP’s general counsel sent a letter to state conferences suggesting the IRS was at fault.
“It has (come) to our attention that several NAACP units have received letters from the Internal Revenue Service stating that their tax-exempt status has been revoked,” wrote Wallace, the NAACP’s general counsel. . “This is an error because individual NAACP units are not required to file their own Form 990s.”
Under the NAACP structure, state and local chapters submit their annual financial reports to the national office, which then compiles an “aggregate” tax return, Brown said Wednesday. He accused NAACP National CEO Derrick Johnson of mishandling critical data essential to preserving tax-exempt status.
“What’s happening is units across the country sending in their information,” Brown said. “We all directed our information to the national who was supposed to file for us, but they screwed up.”
More than 800 affiliated organizations have had their tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS. State conferences in the same boat included California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.
This story was originally published September 28, 2022 6:02 p.m.