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Judge orders NC to comply with federal law on purging voters

August 9th, 2018

— Elections officials in Cumberland, Moore and Beaufort counties illegally canceled the registrations of thousands of voters before the 2016 election and are prohibited from similarly purging their voter rolls in the future based on challenges by activists, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs also ordered the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to ensure all 100 county boards of elections comply with provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, regarding removing people from voter rolls.

Under state law, any voter can challenge another voter’s registration if they live in the same county. A challenge results in a hearing where the voter who is challenged can present evidence of his or her residence, and local elections officials then make the decision as to whether to remove the voter.

In the weeks leading up to the November 2016 election, one Cumberland County resident representing the Voter Integrity Project of NC challenged 4,000 voters and a voter representing the Moore Voter Integrity Project challenged almost 500 Moore County voters. Four people in Beaufort County challenged about 140 voters there.

The three county elections board sustained the challenges in most cases, canceling the registrations of about 3,900 voters.

Individuals whose registrations had been challenged and the state chapter of the NAACP sued, and days before the election, Biggs ordered the three counties to allow all of the voters who had been purged from the rolls to vote, calling the challenge process “insane.”

On Tuesday, Biggs granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that the three county boards didn’t comply with NVRA standards for purging voters. The federal law requires that a voter not be purged unless he or she has provided written confirmation of a change of address or has failed to respond to a notice and didn’t vote in two subsequent federal elections.

All three counties were dumping people from the voter rolls based on a single mailing from the activists that went unanswered without waiting for the two election cycles to pass to see if the challenged voters had cast ballots, Biggs determined. She also found that the counties “systematically removed” voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election, which violates the NVRA.

“The NVRA encourages the participation of qualified voters in federal elections by mandating certain procedures designed to reduce the risk that a voter’s registration might be erroneously canceled. Defendants’ conduct contravened these procedures,” she wrote in her 27-page ruling.

Challenges to individual voters in dozens of counties were filed after the 2016 election by Republicans as then-Gov. Pat McCrory fought to close his deficit in the gubernatorial election. Most of those challenges were later dismissed at the county or state level, and McCrory eventually conceded to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

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