Lawsuit likely on the way over North Carolina voter registration irregularities

If North Carolina hasn’t intentionally been making it harder to register to vote under Governor Pat McCrory, they’ve gotten really, really bad at it.

As originally reported by DailyKos last month, when McCrory took office in 2013 the state was registering over 2,000 voters per month through public assistance agencies. After he took office, that number immediately fell by an alarming degree to roughly 700 per month — a statistically significant 66% decline. A much smaller, statistically insignificant decline was observed in voter registrations via the Department of Motor Vehicles:

Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, states are required to provide opportunities to register to vote when they interact with government agencies, with public assistance programs and DMVs specifically referenced.

The decline in registrations through public assistance cannot be explained by a decline in overall public assistance applications. As pointed out in the DailyKos story, voter registrations as a percentage of public assistance applications declined, as well.

In other words, something concerning voter registration via public assistance programs changed under McCrory, to a statistically significant degree, that didn’t take place in the DMV. And it doesn’t take too many guesses to figure out what makes public assistance applicants different from drivers: They are lower-income, more likely to not be registered to vote and, by extension, are disproportionately African-American and Democratic.

All told, the DailyKos report estimates that roughly 40,000 voters are missing from North Carolina’s rolls due only to the decline in registrations via public assistance programs during McCrory’s tenure as governor.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for registering voters via public assistance programs, originally said that they were unaware of the discrepancy — a claim that was later refuted by the state registrar, which produced an extensive paper trail of emails asking the agency to investigate the issue. Furthermore, the administration claimed that the decline was unintentional, a claim anticipated and shown to be highly dubious by the DailyKos report, which shows that the decline was consistent across counties — with all but two counties showing drastic declines (Perquimans County and Union County showed no significant change). Therefore, the drop cannot be the result of inadvertent error on the part of a handful of rogue bureaucrats.

These discrepancies, along with the state’s foot-dragging response, have led a group of voting rights advocates to send a letter to the state on Monday threatening a lawsuit under the NVRA if it does not bring its voter registration practices into compliance with federal law. As reported by The Huffington Post on Monday:

The groups said that field investigations at state Department of Health and Human Services offices revealed that three-quarters of interviewees said they did not receive any sort of verbal or written opportunity to register.

Therefore, the civil rights groups say, the North Carolina DMV “systematically fails to transmit voter registration applications to elections officials within the time limits required by the NVRA when consumers indicate a desire to register.”

The voting rights groups’ letter alleges that the systematic ignorance of voter registration applications includes the DMV along with the DHHS, highlighting the case of Sherry Denise, a North Carolina voter who was forced to vote provisionally after she requested her voting registration to be updated when she updated her drivers license and changed her address at the DMV in October 2014. Of course, she is not alone. As the letter states, in more than half of North Carolina counties, voters were forced to vote provisionally in 2014 after their DMV had failed to updated their voter registration following a change of address.

If the North Carolina DMV has been failing to honor voter registrations via change of address, they wouldn’t be the only one. A similar lawsuit is being brought against the state of Texas for the exact same NVRA noncompliance.

Freedmen at a voter registration office, via Shutterstock

Freedmen at a voter registration office, via Shutterstock

The growing number of legal concerns over not only voter suppression laws, but also systemic bureaucratic oversights, suggests that Republicans are finding ever more creative ways to keep Democrats from casting ballots. Under Governor McCrory, North Carolina passed strict voter ID laws, shortened the state’s early voting period and repealed same-day voter registration (which would have prevented irregularities such as the ones outlined above). But that wasn’t enough. For all of their harping on the evils of bureaucracy, the state’s Republican leadership was clearly more than willing to put it to use when it suited a political aim — that being making it harder for people who applied for SNAP benefits, disability or unemployment insurance to vote.

After all, they aren’t wealthy enough to deserve to vote. And if they do vote, they’ll vote for the wrong candidate. Keeping them from the ballot is, therefore, all in the name of democracy, right?


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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