Did Gov. McCrory Intentionally Disenfranchise 40,000 Poor Residents?
In a startling report, watchdog groups have discovered that after Governor McCrory took office in 2013, new voter registrations through public assistance fell dramatically to the tune of 66%. Voter registrations through the DMV, however, remained almost identical, seeming to indicate a problem specific to public assistance programs.
While DHHS initially claimed they were unaware of the drop off, emails released by the State Board of Elections appear to directly contradict that, as SBOE was telling DHHS about the problem for years.
Local social service agencies are not giving poor residents adequate opportunities to file and update voter registrations as required by federal law, a letter sent by a group of voting rights advocates warned the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Department of Health and Human Services.
Executives with Project Vote, Demos, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice were the lead authors of the letter, which is potentially the precursor to a lawsuit if North Carolina officials don't agree to correct the apparent problems. Democracy North Carolina and other groups also participated in the research that backs up the assertions.
The letter cites both data showing a precipitous statewide drop in voter registration coming through local Department of Social Services offices – from 42,988 in 2011 to 13,340 in 2013 – and in-person interviews with DSS clients that suggest some departments aren't making voter registration forms available.
"The right to vote is fundamental. North Carolina should be doing everything in its power to provide low-income individuals the opportunity to register," said Catherine M. Flanagan, senior counsel for Project Vote. "Public assistance agencies are a vital part of our voter registration system because they connect with Americans who are less likely to register through other means."
"We welcome input from civic groups that share our mission to ensure registration opportunities are widely available at public assistance agencies," state Elections Director Kim Strach said Friday.
In a brief response to the groups, Strach said, "I share your concern that North Carolina complies fully with voter registration requirements, and I look forward to investigating the issues you raised and taking appropriate action."
The letter starts a 90-day clock where state agencies and the voting advocates can agree to work together on the problem or the advocates can go to court to force changes.
This is not the first time North Carolina has faced this kind of complaint. A set of voting rights groups brought a similar complaint in 2006 that was settled out of court. A spokesman for the State Board of Elections said North Carolina hopes to craft a similar solution this time around.