Under the Dome

Suit threatened over NC voting access; DHHS, Elections Board say they’ll investigate


Four national and state voting-rights organizations are threatening to sue North Carolina for what they contend are Gov. Pat McCrory administration’s violations of a federal law that requires the state to help poor people register to vote.

The coalition gave written notice to the State Board of Elections and the state Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, triggering a 90-day period for the state agencies to comply with the law or face a lawsuit.

The groups contend that the number of voter registration applications from public assistance agencies have dropped by more than half. They fell from an average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of 16,000 in the past two years, according to an analysis by the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina.

Although the recent drop coincides with McCrory’s first two years in office, the groups point out that a similar drop occurred 10 years ago when the state was under Democratic control. Voting-rights organizations at that time prompted the state to do a better job of increasing registrations from public assistance agencies.

Elections Director Kim Strach issued a statement in response on Friday:

“We welcome input from civic groups that share our mission to ensure registration opportunities are widely available at public assistance agencies.”

Update: DHHS released the following statement on Friday evening:

“This administration has always supported increasing voter registration and will fully review any alleged variance along with our processes to determine if the Department needs to revise its procedures. Given the gravity of this issue, we wish these activist organizations had approached the Department sooner when they first had concerns about the registration process.

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services relies on county departments of social services, which have long-standing processes in place, to make voter registration available through the county department of social services to applicants of programs of public assistance.

“The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to work collaboratively with the NC State Board of Elections to ensure compliance with the law.”

The groups sending the letter were Demos, Project Vote and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The numbers show a wide range in the Triangle: Durham County actually increased by 12 percent over the past two years, joining only a handful of counties where applications increased. Chatham County dropped 11 percent; Wake County was down 46 percent; Orange County, down 61 percent; and Johnston County, down 57 percent.