U.S. Judge: Local voter registration challenge process violated federal law

Published 7:39 pm Monday, August 13, 2018

A 2016 lawsuit brought about as the result of voter challenges in Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland counties was resolved in United States District Court last week. Three Belhaven residents are listed as plaintiffs in the suit.

According to court documents released last Wednesday, United States District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs found that the actions of local boards of elections during the months leading up to the Nov. 2016 election resulted in the improper cancellation of thousands of voter registrations in the three counties, violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

According to court documents, in Beaufort County, four individuals challenged 138 voter registrations in the months leading up to the election. The vast majority of the challenged registrations were in the Belhaven area.

After holding preliminary hearings on the matter, the Beaufort County Board of Elections arranged full hearings for 106 voter challenges in late Oct. 2016. Based on the results of the full hearings, 65 registrations were removed from the voter rolls in Beaufort County.

Similar challenges in Moore and Cumberland counties led to the cancellation of nearly 4,000 voter registrations in the months leading up to the election.

In the state of North Carolina, any registered voter of a county can challenge the right of any other person to vote for a number of reasons, including residency, citizenship, death, being under 18 years of age or misrepresentation of a one’s identity.

Another section of the law indicates that the presentation of a letter retuned as undeliverable to the address listed on one’s voter registration card can be used as evidence that a person no longer resides in that precinct. In many cases, this was the evidence used in the Beaufort County challenges.

In the lawsuit brought against the North Carolina Board of Elections by the NAACP and several local individuals impacted by the challenges, the plaintiffs argued that the methods used to challenge these voter registrations were in violation of the NVRA.

“The Court concludes that the Beaufort County Board violated the NVRA’s 90-day prohibition on systematic removals in this case,” the ruling reads. “The Beaufort County Board’s process lacked individualized inquiry with the Board concluding that generic evidence was sufficient to establish a prima facie case that each challenged voter was ineligible. The evidence in many cases consisted solely of a mass mailing previously sent to challenged voters from a local campaign and returned as undeliverable.”

On Nov. 4, 2016, days before Election Day, Biggs issued a preliminary injunction requiring local boards of elections to restore the registrations of those who had been purged from the voter rolls.