Wake County

Wake agrees to ask for more frequent review of its voter rolls

There was a line around the building to vote at the Wake County Board of Elections Office in Raleigh during the first day of early voting in Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.
There was a line around the building to vote at the Wake County Board of Elections Office in Raleigh during the first day of early voting in Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

A legal battle between the Wake elections board and a watchdog group ended earlier this month with each side agreeing that the county has been following federal laws and Wake vowing to seek more frequent review of its voter rolls.

Wake’s Board of Elections reached the settlement with the Voter Integrity Project, which sued the board last summer. VIP alleged that Wake failed to maintain updated and accurate voter rolls, a claim the county disputes, and that the county failed to make public information requested by the group.

The group requested information from Wake’s board on June 2, 2016, and, after not hearing back, sued the county on July 18, 2016.

In the settlement, Wake’s board claims that it planned to respond to the Voter Integrity Project’s request but also agrees to divulge public information the group requests in the future within “a reasonable amount of time.”

Jay DeLancy, VIP’s director, cast the deal as progress in his group’s mission to fight voter fraud.

“We are glad the Wake Board of Elections is taking measures that will increase public confidence in their hard work,” DeLancy said in a statement.

“All Wake County voters – current, future, and past – are well-served by this agreement,” DeLancy said. “Several other counties in North Carolina have similarly bloated voter rolls, and we hope they will cooperate as we examine them on a case-by-case basis.”

The Voter Integrity Project asked the court to order Wake to take additional steps to cross-check its voter rolls and provide data on its efforts to maintain accurate rolls. It wanted access to data on the number of registrants removed from the rolls by maintenance procedures; the number of notices sent to inactive voters; and the most recent number of registered voters, among other things.

Wake agreed to provide a list of each “inactive” voter on its rolls to VIP by the end of this year, and every two years until 2023. It also agreed to ask the N.C. Board of Elections about the possibility of comparing its voter data against the National Change of Address system four times a year, rather than two.

Inactive voters are those who are registered to vote, but failed to participate in two consecutive federal-level general elections. The N.C. Board of Elections tracks the data, said Gary Sims, director of Wake’s elections board.

Wake currently has 609,000 active and 96,000 inactive voters, he said.

State law requires local elections boards to remove inactive voters from their rolls if the voters don’t respond to their mailers and fail to participate in four consecutive federal elections.

Advocacy groups such as VIP fear that people with malicious intentions don the identity of inactive voters to illegally influence an election. An N.C. Board of Elections report released earlier this year found 24 voters statewide who voted twice and two people who voted under false names.

“Inactive voters are the modern-day ‘dead voter,’ meaning that anybody can walk in and vote in their name simply by reciting the name and address of that voter, with no ID required,” DeLancy said.

The settlement prohibits the Voter Integrity Project, Wake’s elections board leaders and three local residents who were part of the lawsuit from disparaging each other.

The residents – Jennifer Morris, Edward Jones and Siobhan Millen – were afraid VIP’s lawsuit might affect their efforts to sign people up to vote, said Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented them.

“Our position, confirmed by the settlement agreement, is that Wake County did nothing wrong and that with respect to the issues in this case, it (the board) has been acting to ensure that all eligible voters stay on the rolls,” Riggs said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht