Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal court blocks mass voter purges in NC after NAACP sues

A federal court has ordered that three counties in North Carolina must stop purging voters based on private party challenges.

Here is the release from the North Carolina NAACP, a plaintiff in the suit.

A federal court ruled for the North Carolina NAACP, Moore County Branch of the NAACP, and individual voters yesterday in a landmark voting rights case, issuing a permanent injunction prohibiting the state and county boards of elections from purging voters based on mass challenges filed by private parties.

The North Carolina NAACP, the Moore County Branch of the NAACP, and individual plaintiffs brought the lawsuit in October 2016 after learning that county boards of elections in at least three counties across the state—in Moore, Beaufort, and Cumberland County were conducting mass removals of voters based on private challenges, including challenges by the voter integrity project, brought on the basis of returned mail. In Beaufort County, voters who were purged were disproportionately African American.

“It is fitting that this decision comes on the week of the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the North Carolina NAACP. “The odious practice of using mass mailings and undelivered mail to suppress and intimidate voters of color has a long and shameful history in North Carolina. Yesterday’s federal court decision will ensure that voters are not wrongly disenfranchised on the basis of returned mail.”

The lawsuit, filed against the State Board of Elections and the Cumberland, Moore, and Beaufort Boards of Elections, alleged that the purges violated the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs won an emergency injunction on the eve of the 2016 election, ensuring that wrongly removed voters were able to vote in that election and that the state was temporarily enjoined from engaging in further purges.

Yesterday’s decision makes this injunction permanent. In ruling for the plaintiffs and finding that the purges violated the National Voter Registration Act, the federal court ordered:

Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those persons in active concert or participation with them, are hearby enjoined and restrained from:

(1) Removing the registration of voters from the official list of eligible voters in elections for federal office through the challenge procedures set forth in NC Gen Stat 163A-911, when those challenges are based on change of residency and the State has neither received written confirmation from the voter of a change of residency outside of the county, nor complied with the NVRA’s prior notice requirement and two-election cycle waiting period;
(2) using the challenge procedure set forth in NC Gen Stat. 163A-911 to remove voters from the rolls without individualized inquiry as to the circumstances of each voter in the 90 days preceding a federal election in the absence of a request of the registrant, necessity under State law….; and
(3) holding hearings or taking any actions(s) to process challenges filed under those provisions in the circumstances identified above.

“This ruling for plaintiffs is a victory for the voter of North Carolina whose rights under federal law were being violated by this practice of mass purges, “said Attorney Leah Kang of Forward Justice, “As the court said, the NVRA was enacted to encourage people to vote and to protect voters from the risk of being erroneously removed from the rolls. By purging dozens and sometimes hundreds of voters at a time based on returned postcards, the state was disenfranchising eligible voters and violating federal law. This ruling ensures an end to this illegal practice.”

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