The Town of Carrboro kept Black Lives Matter flags in place at one of its early voting locations after being asked to take them down by the N.C. State Board of Elections due to complaints of partisanship.
Carrboro Communications Manager Catherine Lazorko said in an email that the Carrboro Town Council received a letter on Oct. 28 from the NCSBE, requesting the Town remove Black Lives Matter flags at the front of Carrboro Town Hall for the remainder of the early voting period.
The letter from NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said the board heard from the General Counsel for the Republican Party about complaints, as the flags could be interpreted as an endorsement for a particular movement.
“While these flags may be a supported symbol of the Town of Carrboro, the one-stop early voting site is open to any Orange County voter and therefore the site must provide the opportunity for all voters to exercise their right to vote without intimidation or hindrance,” Bell said in the letter.
The board requested the flags be removed for the remainder of the early voting period, as the Town Hall served as an early voting location. But Lazorko said the Carrboro Town Council decided to keep the flags up after consulting with the Town attorney.
Carrboro resident and former Board of Aldermen member Bethany Chaney said she couldn't speculate on the NCSBE's reasoning for its request to remove the flags. But she said in effect, it shifted attention and complaints to the Town instead of interpreting and applying the current law as written and accepting responsibility.
She said if the Board wants to reinterpret the law about partisan electioneering in regard to Black Lives Matter flags, then the law should also apply to the Alamance County Confederate Monument in front of the county courthouse in Graham.
“It represents the inhumanity of racist political and social power,” Chaney said. “BLM flags, in contrast, are a positive assertion of humanity, which should have no political bounds and which, frankly, should be espoused and defended by every member of our state Board of Elections.”
Rachel Raper, director of elections for Orange County, said North Carolina voting locations have a buffer zone 50 feet from their entrance in which no campaigning material is allowed. This means no signage that would endorse or oppose a candidate or political party.
“The crux of this matter is, do those flags represent that?” Raper said. “The executive director is saying that we’ve had enough complaints where these flags represent a movement, and so that’s why they’re asking that the flags be removed for the duration of the election.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said in a Nov. 4 statement that the Town chose to keep the flags up because they acknowledge and oppose systematic racism.
"How ironic that here in the South, with our legacy of disenfranchisement of Black people and ongoing efforts to deter Black people from voting, there is an argument that the words 'Black Lives Matter' cause voter intimidation," she said.
She said the flags are nonpartisan and therefore their display doesn't constitute election-related activity under state law.
“Town Hall should continue to be a place where all citizens can exercise and celebrate their right to vote without intimidation or interference, and I will continue to advocate for this on behalf of the community,” Lavelle said.
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