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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6 Responses to “North Carolina sued over violations of the National Voter Registration Act”

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  2. JaneE says:

    A random or procedural error should not produce different results by income.

    A state government can’t track a voter application and make sure it is processed? But only for the poor?

    When I was programming, all changes needed to be documented. Development platforms did change tracking automatically. If the system changed to not pass on certain changes, there may be a way to find it. If it was just a state employee checking the wrong box, it would be harder to prove deliberate intent. Someone needs to do a full end-to-end audit of the process and all the software used to enable it. But that won’t happen.

  3. BeccaM says:

    This NC situation is a strange case, because it’s hard to argue with both the numbers and the many credible reports of people doing what they are supposed to do at the DMV, but finding out after the fact their registrations were never updated.

    It’s not exactly reasonable to assume that as soon as McCrory took office, all of these offices simultaneously decided to either drastically curtail registration assistance (as in the case of public assistance offices) or somehow screw up and fail to process registration changes (as with the DMV offices). If such orders were given from above, there would be clear evidence of it, a paper trail, such as some announcements about new procedures to be implemented.

    Here, I think it makes more sense to look at where those registrations go. Which would be the NC State Board of Elections, no? Maybe one of these people should be questioned, starting with the director, Kim Strach.

    For more:

  4. Houndentenor says:

    As the court still has basically the same conservative-liberal make-up as it did with Bush v. Gore I hold little hope for the courts upholding voting rights.

  5. Sally says:

    One would think that this would be a wake-up call to the states, but I doubt it. The GOP does not want people to vote. More legal votes mean fewer GOP wins. Heaven forbid we let all Americans cast a ballot that counts. Had that happened ion Michigan, Snyder would be gone, the cheating twosome would not have been elected, and the legislature that just voted to end straight ticket voting, which benefits Democrats, would not have been in place to do that. Nor would they have been able to overturn the will of the people to end Snyder’s emergency managers, one of whom is responsible for Flint’s poisoned water, not that you’ll hear that on the national news.

  6. 2karmanot says:

    It’s time we sent in General Sherman.

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