Voting Groups Allege NC Violates Federal Registration Law
Several voting rights groups accused Governor Pat McCrory's administration Friday of violating a federal law that requires public assistance agencies to help register voters. The groups are largely the same ones that made similar allegations against Governor Mike Easley's administration about 10 years ago, and then worked with the state to resolve the problems.
When people apply for or renew food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of assistance, government offices are required to offer voter registration.
In a letter to North Carolina leaders, Project Vote, Democracy North Carolina and several other groups allege the state is not meeting that requirement.
"The clearest evidence is the drop in the numbers," says Isela Gutierrez of Democracy North Carolina.
She says voter registrations originating from public assistance agencies were down nearly 70 percent last year compared to 2011.
State Board of Elections spokesman Josh Lawson says those numbers are correct.
"The numbers that they provide in the letter are straight from the board of elections," he says. "There is no doubt that after a peak in 2011, there has been a substantial decline."
Lawson says the state board is concerned about the numbers, as well as the groups' claim that several public assistance offices didn't even have voter registration materials.
He says the board has contacted the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"We had set up meetings before we received any kind of notice here, and that's because we had seen declines in these numbers and wanted better explanation and understanding," he said.
State health leaders did not respond to an interview request for this story.
This is the second time in about 10 years Democracy North Carolina and other groups have alerted the state about this kind of problem. In 2006, the groups and the state quickly agreed on a plan to ensure compliance.
Gutierrez of Democracy North Carolina is pleased the state is willing to look into what's changed.
"This is really an opportunity for North Carolina to do what it did last time, which is accept that there's a challenge here or problem here, and begin to move into solution mode without waiting for litigation," she said.
Gutierrez says the groups will sue if they can't agree with the state on a compliance plan within the next three months.