North Carolina sued over violations of the National Voter Registration Act

Months after being warned by a coalition of civil rights groups that they would face a lawsuit if they didn’t address glaring problems with their voter registration procedures, North Carolina is now facing that lawsuit.

At issue is the state’s implementation of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide access to voter registration whenever citizens interact with the DMV and, notably in this case, public assistance agencies.

North Carolina voter registration at public assistance agencies, via DocDawg / DailyKos

North Carolina voter registration at public assistance agencies and the DMV, via DocDawg / DailyKos

As DailyKos user DocDawg reported in May, the number of voter registration forms processed by public assistance agencies in North Carolina saw a catastrophic and immediate decline when current governor Pat McCrory took office. A similar decline was not observed in registrations processed by the DMV, suggesting that the number of North Carolinians attempting to register to vote didn’t magically drop by more than 50 percent when McCrory took office.

However, as the lawsuit notes, the state has issues with its procedures at its DMV offices, as well. A number of North Carolina voters — some of whom are plaintiffs in the lawsuit — were removed from the voter rolls after they updated their voter registration at the DMV. In 2014, these voters were given provisional ballots that were not counted.

As Stuart Naifech, senior counsel at Demos, said, “Our clients did everything right: they visited the DMV before the deadline for registering to vote; they indicated that they wanted to register to vote or update their voter information; and they left the DMV having been told that they would be registered to vote…But when they showed up to vote in the 2014 election, their names were not on the list of registered voters. Because of the DMV’s violations of the law, these North Carolina citizens were deprived of their right to vote.”

For their part, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections has said that they have already taken action to address these issues, noting a sharp uptick in voter registration at public assistance agencies and chalking the reported decline up to a coding error. They also told the Huffington Post that they are in the process of updating their procedures regarding DMV registrations in order to bring the state into compliance with the NVRA, so they are surprised that they are being sued.

But, as the Post notes, the state’s changes aren’t enough:

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, via James Willamor / Flickr

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, via James Willamor / Flickr

“The state had every opportunity for six months to come forth and demonstrate compliance, or efforts it was making to come into compliance,” Catherine Flanagan, senior counsel at Project Vote, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

Flanagan argued that there are “numerous concerns” raised in the groups’ complaint that North Carolina overlooked in its response to the suit.

“The [SBOE]’s response regarding DHHS does not address the serious deficiencies in its office procedures that we point to in our complaint,” she said. “The response also does not address the hundreds if not thousands of North Carolinians who every election day discover that they’re not on the roll even though they thought they registered at DMV — our plaintiffs are examples of those individuals.”

This isn’t the only legal challenge North Carolina is currently facing over its election laws and procedures. Republican lawmakers passed a “fix” to the state’s voter ID law in order to head off a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters. The state’s rules regarding provisional balloting have also been found to have dramatically disparate outcomes on the basis of race.

All this is to say that, even as North Carolina attempts to patch up its electoral bureaucracy to show that voting rights advocates have nothing to fear, they’ve proven that they need to be pushed in order to do so. As is the case in other (almost but not quite all Republican-controlled) states facing voting rights lawsuits, most recently Alabama, ballot access seems to be a secondary concern.

Now that non-compliance is being faced with the credible threat of legal action, perhaps other states will preemptively get their houses in order.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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