NAACP threatens court fight over voter challenges

Published 7:18 pm Monday, October 24, 2016

The voter challenges in Beaufort County — and several other counties — have gotten the attention of at least one civil-rights group.

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, in an Oct. 17 letter to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, contends the challenges in Beaufort County, Moore County and Cumberland County are illegal. In a letter signed by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter, a portion reads: “These systematic removals are prohibited by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (‘NVRA’) and violate North Carolina voter registration laws.”

The state NAACP chapter petitioned the state elections board to instruct each of the state’s 100 county boards of elections to “cease from this unlawful purging of registered voters from their rolls, and to restore the voters who have been improperly removed.”

Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state board, responded to the letter, which was sent to him by Irv Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law. In that response, Lawson wrote: “To the extent your correspondence raises concerns over removals following individualized determinations entered following challenge proceedings under Article 8 of Chapter 163, such removals are not part of North Carolina’s systematic list maintenance program and are not, therefore, of the type barred under the NVRA. State law continues to sanction individualized challenges up to and including Election Day.”

Lawson’s response notes that an appeal of a county board of elections’ decision does not go to the state board. Instead, an appeal would be heard by the Superior Court of the county where the local board of elections is located.

In a subsequent letter signed by Barber and addressed to Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the state elections board, the state NAACP chapter threatened litigation if the state elections officials did not meet with NAACP representatives to “resolve” the issue before the Beaufort County Board of Elections began conducting hearings on voter challenges. Those hearings began Monday.

In its conclusion, the letter reads: “North Carolina is engaged in continuing violations of the NRVA.”

As of Monday afternoon, there was no indication the NAACP had filed a lawsuit.

In Moore County, one challenger, N. Carol Wheeldon, submitted about 400 voter challenges, on the basis that first-class mail sent to those individuals’ addresses were returned to the sender. After a hearing Oct. 14, the Moore County Board of Elections removed nearly all of the challenged voters from the voter rolls.

In Cumberland County since 2014, nearly 3,000 voters were challenged. Some, if not all, of the challenges appear to stem from returned mail from mass mailings, according to the NAACP.

Attempts to reach the State Board of Elections and NAACP on Monday for comment were unsuccessful.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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