Judge orders elections boards to reinstate purged voters

Published 7:21 pm Friday, November 4, 2016

A federal judge issued a decision Friday afternoon that orders the state and local boards of elections to return voters who had been challenged and removed from voter rolls to those rolls.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, who presided over a hearing Wednesday concerning a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in her ruling: “[T]here is little question that the County Boards’ process of allowing third parties to challenge hundreds and, in Cumberland County, thousands of voters within 90 days before the 2016 General Election constitutes the type of ‘systematic’ removal prohibited by the [National Voter Registration Act].” Biggs order the boards of elections to take all steps necessary to restore voter registrations cancelled during the 90 days before Election Day.

“The Beaufort County Board of Elections will definitely comply with the judge’s orders, and we will reinstate those challenged voters to their status that was in effect at the time of their challenge,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, the county’s elections director, about 6:10 p.m. Friday. “Understand she’s saying that if they were inactive, we take them back to inactive. I am planning to stay here as late as I need to, to get those voters activated so that they will be eligible to vote (today) at one-stop.”

State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon said the board is “working quickly to establish the procedures necessary to fully comply with the court order.” However, board attorney Josh Lawson said the state has not yet decided whether it will appeal facets of the ruling, potentially after the election.

“This emergency injunction will help make sure not a single voters’ voice is unlawfully taken away,” said the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue. This is our Selma.”

It’s unclear how Biggs’ ruling could affect a hearing, set for 5 p.m. Monday, on 14 voter challenges before the Beaufort County Board of Elections. Those 14 challenges were continued from a hearing conducted Oct. 29. The board, in light of the ruling, could dismiss those challenges.

The challenged voters in Beaufort, Cumberland and Moore counties were purged from voter rolls after individual and organizations challenged their right to vote. The NAACP contends the purges are illegal because the violate the National Voter Registration Act’s prohibition from remove voters from voters rolls within 90 days of a federal election.

In Beaufort County, 138 voters were challenged, with about 60 being removed from voter rolls after hearings.

State law allows any voter to challenge another voter’s registration. Once a challenge is filed, the local board of elections must conduct a hearing on the challenge, and it shall take such testimony under oath and receive such other evidence proffered by the challenger as may be offered. The burden of proof shall be on the challenger, and if no testimony is presented, the board shall dismiss the challenge, according to state law. If the challenger presents evidence and if the board finds that probable cause exists that the person challenged is not qualified to vote, then the board shall schedule a hearing on the challenge.

The law states presentation of a letter mailed by returnable first-class mail to the voter at the address listed on the voter registration card and returned because the person does not live at the address shall constitute prima facie evidence that the person no longer resides in the precinct. 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 last month.




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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