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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 45
NAACP sues North Carolina for voter suppression
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NAACP sues North Carolina for voter suppression

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The NAACP filed a federal lawsuit on October 31, charging the North Carolina Board of Elections with trying to suppress the votes of African-Americans in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

Lawyers for the group say that election officials in three North Carolina counties canceled the voter registrations of 4,500 voters based 'exclusively on mass mailings that were returned as undeliverable.'

On a call with reporters, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, called the cancellations 'the worst onslaught against minority voting...since the days of Jim Crow.'

'The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election,' Barber continued. 'We're taking this emergency step to make sure not a single voter's voice is unlawfully taken away. This is our Selma, and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue.'

US District Judge Loretta Biggs, who heard arguments in the case November 2, seemed to agree with the NAACP. The North Carolina challenge process sounds 'insane,' she said.

'This sounds like something that was put together in 1901,' she told lawyers for the state.

The judge also said she was 'horrified' by the number of removals in Cumberland County, which accounted for the majority of the statewide total.

'It almost looks like a cattle call, the way people are being purged,' she told county attorney Rick Moorefield.

He replied that election officials didn't like the process, 'but they felt compelled to follow the statute.'

The hearing ended without a ruling. Biggs didn't indicate when she would decide on the NAACP's complaint but noted that time was running out before the November 8 election.

North Carolina law allows any voter to challenge the eligibility of any other voter in his or her county up to 25 days before the election. The challenge can include a residency challenge.

According to North Carolina election officials, 'a small number' of voters challenged the registrations of 'thousands' of other voters - disproportionately African-Americans - on the grounds that they did not live at the addresses indicated on their voter registration documents.

The challenge came after a mass mailing sent to the excluded voters was returned marked 'undeliverable.'

Removing their names from the voter rolls is legal under state law, but federal law prohibits systemic voter removal programs within 90 days of a federal election.

The NAACP adds that many of the mass mailers were returned in error.

'In many cases, voters purged by defendants still reside at the address where they are registered to vote, or have moved within the county and remain eligible to vote there,' NAACP lawyers argued. 'Nonetheless, a single item of returned mail has resulted in their ultimate removal from the voter rolls.'

One plaintiff in the suit, James Edward Arthur Sr., says that he had planned to vote but recently learned that his voter registration was canceled 'as a result of a third-party challenge brought under North Carolina's voter challenge statute.'

Grace Bell Hardison, a 100-year-old African-American woman living in Beaufort County, is another plaintiff. In court papers, the NAACP argues that she has voted in nearly every election for the last 12 years but recently learned that her registration was challenged based on an alleged change of residence - even though she hasn't moved since 2011.

Her nephew was 'ultimately successful' in presenting evidence of her residence, the NAACP said.

North Carolina officials denied they were responsible for suppressing votes.

Kimberly Westbrook Strach, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said the challenges cited by the NAACP came from private citizens and not state agencies, and were resolved through a 'statutory process that ensures notice and an opportunity to be heard before the appropriate body within the county.'

In a statement after the lawsuit was filed, she said, 'The statutes at issue are decades old and are common across the country and widely regarded as compatible with the National Voter Registration Act. If the plaintiffs are right, then most states are wrong.'

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