A Raleigh-based group devoted to reducing the potential for voter fraud has filed suit against the Wake County Board of Elections claiming that it has failed to maintain updated and accurate voter rolls as well as make public information requested by the group.
The suit, filed by the Voter Integrity Project, said that according to census data, Wake County has had more voters on the rolls than actual eligible voters. It says roughly 670,000 people were registered to vote in the 2014 election, according to numbers reported by Wake County, while census data shows that the average number of people eligible to vote between 2010 and 2014 was roughly 640,000.
“Any time you have people on the voter rolls who are ineligible to vote, you run a very high risk of mischief,” said Jay DeLancy, executive director of the Voter Integrity Project.
In June, the group sent notices to the Wake County Board of Elections informing it of the apparent discrepancy in the rolls and requesting information on the county’s efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls. The board did not respond to the notices, DeLancy said, resulting in Monday’s lawsuit.
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Gary Sims, director of the Board of Elections, says the lawsuit cites outdated information. He said more recent census data from 2015 shows that in fact there were more eligible voters than people registered to vote.
“What I saw based off of our census information was that we need to register more people,” Sims said.
Kaylan Phillips, litigation counsel for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which filed the suit on behalf of DeLancy’s group, said she had not seen the data Sims cited. But she said that simply having less than 100 percent of the number of eligible voters on the rolls does not prove the rolls are accurate.
Sims also mentioned that Wake County complies with statewide maintenance procedures for the rolls. These procedures include weekly updates that cross reference DMV, Social Security, and register of deeds death certificate data.
DeLancy said there are additional steps that the county ought to take to cross reference information. For instance, the county could check jury disqualification information.
In 2012, he cited more than 500 cases of people on the voting rolls whom he had identified as ineligible to vote based on DMV and jury duty records. The move was controversial, and he was criticized by some for using outdated records. Most of the cases were dismissed, but some were shown to be legitimate. Cross referencing jury disqualification would allow the board to see records of individuals who have either moved, self identified as felons or are not residents.
It is unclear whether the law requires Wake County to take additional measures like this to verify its voting rolls. Bill Marshall, Kenan Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina, said he doesn’t know of any court decisions or stipulations in the law that clarify what constitutes reasonable efforts by the state to maintain the rolls.
Phillips, one of the lawyers bringing the lawsuit, agreed, explaining that what’s reasonable can vary from state to state given the range of options and information that a state or county might have access to.
The Voter Integrity Project wants the court to order the county to take additional steps to cross-check its voter rolls and provide data on their efforts to maintain accurate rolls. It wants, among other things, 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.
Marshall noted that election boards can go too far in purging eligible voters from the rolls, which is also illegal under the federal law and has prompted lawsuits in other states.
“Being overly aggressive on purging the rolls is also a problem,” he said. “There’s a balance here.”
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