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Federal court blocks purge of NC voter rolls via private challenges
Permanent injunction was sought by NAACP
Published Friday, August 10, 2018 11:15 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

A federal court permanently blocked North Carolina election boards from purging voter rolls based on private challenges.

A federal court has permanently blocked North Carolina boards of election from purging voter rolls based on challenges from private parties.

Wednesday’s injunction stems from a lawsuit filed in 2016 by for the North Carolina NAACP, Moore County NAACP, and individual voters after learning that county boards of elections in Moore, Beaufort, and Cumberland counties were conducting mass removals of voters based on challenges, including the voter integrity project, brought on by returned mail. The voters purged in Beaufort County were disproportionately African American.

“It is fitting that this decision comes on the week of the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act,” said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the state NAACP.  “The odious practice of using mass mailings and undelivered mail to suppress and intimidate voters of color has a long and shameful history in North Carolina.  [The] federal court decision will ensure that voters are not wrongly disenfranchised on the basis of returned mail.”

The lawsuit, filed against the State Board of Elections and Cumberland, Moore, and Beaufort boards of elections, contend the purges violate the National Voter Registration Act, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  The plaintiffs won an emergency injunction before the 2016 election, which allowed wrongly purged to cast ballots while blocking the state from further purges. 

In ruling for the plaintiffs, the court prohibits:

• Purging eligible voters through challenges based on change of residency when the state has neither received written confirmation from the voter of a change of residency outside of the county, nor complied with a prior notice requirement and two-election cycle waiting period;

• Using the challenge procedure without individualized inquiry to the circumstances voters 90 days before a federal election in the absence of a request of the registrant, and

• Holding hearings or taking any action to process challenges filed under those provisions.

“This ruling for plaintiffs is a victory for the voter of North Carolina whose rights under federal law were being violated by this practice of mass purges,” said Leah Kang, an attorney with Durham-based Forward Justice, a social justice strategy center. “As the court said, the NVRA was enacted to encourage people to vote and to protect voters from the risk of being erroneously removed from the rolls. By purging dozens and sometimes hundreds of voters at a time based on returned postcards, the state was disenfranchising eligible voters and violating federal law. This ruling ensures an end to this illegal practice.”

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