NAACP files lawsuit over voter challenges

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A federal court is scheduled to hear an emergency lawsuit filed by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, which wants the court to stop several counties in North Carolina from removing voters from their voter rolls.

The NC NAACP filed its lawsuit Monday, contending the number of voters being removed from voter rolls is disproportionately black. Beaufort County is one of those counties cited in the lawsuit. The hearing is set for 9 a.m. in federal court in Winston-Salem, with U.S. District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs officiating. She is the first black woman to serve on federal court in North Carolina.

The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction to stop the North Carolina State Board of Elections and some counties’ elections boards from “illegally cancelling the registrations of thousands of voters who are being targeted in a coordinated effort right out of the GOP playbook to suppress the black vote in the state,” according to a statement on the NC NAACP’s website.

The lawsuit lists Beaufort County residents James Edward Arthur Sr., Grace Bell Hardison and James L. Cox as other plaintiffs. It lists the Beaufort County Board of Election and its members, Jay McRoy, John Tate and Tom Payne, as defendants, along with Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, along with elections officials with the state and other counties.

The lawsuit lists attorneys from California, Washington, D.C., and Cary as working for the NAACP.

In Beaufort County, voter challenges were filed by Republican and unaffiliated voters, according to documents from the Beaufort County Board of Elections. In October, 139 voter challenges were filed, some just 30 minutes before the deadline to submit voter challenges. Most, if not all, of those challenges focused on the addresses of the challenged voters.

The NC NAACP argues that the National Voter Registration Act prohibits boards of elections from removing voters from voter rolls 90 days before a federal election. North Carolina does not place that probation on challenges made by individual voters.

“The Tar Heel state is ground zero in the intentional, surgical efforts by Republicans to suppress the voice of voters,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, in a written statement. “The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election. We’re taking this emergency step to make sure not a single voters’ voice is unlawfully taken away. This is our Selma and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue.”

The State Board of Elections takes a different view of the matter.

“These voter challenges were filed by private citizens, not elections officials. Our independent agency administers state and federal election laws. The statutes at issue are decades old and are common across the country and widely regarded as compatible with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). If the plaintiffs are right, then most states are wrong,” wrote from Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, in an email sent to the Daily News on Monday night.

In a letter send last week to Barber last week, Strach noted North Carolina’s voter-challenge provisions have been amended frequently, including changes since passage of the NVRA. “While I understand concerns you have expressed regarding the types of activities permitted by our law, I do not share your view that this agency must now, and for the first time, refuse to comply with these statutes,” she wrote.

The challenged voters in Beaufort County were notified by the Board of Elections, said Hopkins. The board is required provide at least 10 days’ notice about a voter-challenge hearing before it’s held, she said. In case where voter does not attend the hearing to respond to the challenge, according to state law, that challenge will be “automatically sustained,” resulting in that voter being removed from the county’s list of registered voters, Hopkins said.

If the court orders the Beaufort County elections board to restore the removed voters to the voter rolls, it will comply, Hopkins said. “If that … order is pushed through and the court orders us to restore them back to them active status, that will not be a burden on the county,” she said.

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.

email author More by Mike