Judge holds hearing over voter challenges

Published 11:39 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016

During a hearing in federal court in Winston-Salem on Wednesday, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP argued that several counties in the state have been improperly removing voters from voter rolls.

The NAACP asked the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina to stop those counties from removing voters from their voter rolls. The NAACP contends the number of voters being removed from voter rolls is disproportionately black.

The U.S. Justice Department, in a document filed in federal court late Tuesday, says Beaufort County and at least two other counties apparently violated federal guidelines for challenging registrations of many voters.

The Justice Department contends counties need more evidence than a returned piece of mail to remove voters from voter rolls. The filing also contends that federal law — the National Voter Registration Act — prohibits systematic removals within 90 days of a federal election. The department also argues voters cannot be removed from voter rolls because they change addresses within the county. The NAACP’s lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges some voters are being removed from voter rolls for that reason.

Lawyers for North Carolina countered that state data shows fewer than 7,000 voters statewide out of 6.8 million registered voters have been removed from voter rolls in the past two years.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, presiding over the hearing Wednesday, heard NAACP lawyers say Beaufort, Cumberland and Moore counties removed thousands of voters from the rolls based on undelivered mailings by third-party activists.

When mail sent to an address is returned as undeliverable, state law says county boards can accept that as evidence that the voter no longer lives there.

After learning how that process works, Biggs said, “This sounds like something that was put together in 1901.” She described the process as “insane.”

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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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