A shortage in voter registration forms frustrates NC nonprofits

The state does not have enough updated voter registration forms to distribute to nonprofit organizations that run registration drives, local elections offices, and other locations as the election season enters its crucial final weeks.

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

State agency spokesmen pin the shortage on supply chain problems that make it difficult for the state prisons’ business operation to find paper. Correction Enterprises prints voter registration application forms for the state Board of Elections.

Voter registration forms had to be updated this summer to add the Green Party as an option for party affiliation and to change the “attestation” regarding felony convictions. A panel of state Appeals Court judges said in late July said that people on probation, parole, or post-release supervision for felony convictions can vote.

The outdated version of the voter registration application requires people sign a statement under penalty of perjury saying they are not on probation or parole for a felony. The updated registration application drops that language and replaces it with a statement saying the person signing is not in prison or jail for a felony.

Nonprofits that register voters have been frustrated by the shortage of forms  they order in bulk from the state Board of Elections.

Jimmy Patel-Nguyen, communications director for North Carolina Asian Americans Together, said the group has constantly checked with the state elections office about updated forms only to be told that there aren’t any available.

The state board said in a press release that the old forms were okay to use, but voter registration groups worried about having people sign a form where they’re asked to say something that isn’t true.

“This has been extremely frustrating,” said Kate Fellman, executive director of You Can Vote. The nonprofit has an unfilled order for thousands of forms. To work around the shortage, You Can Vote printed updated forms from the state Board of Elections website.

“We didn’t want to use the old forms,” she said.

Joselle Torres, Democracy North Carolina communications director, said getting updated forms is a priority. Nonprofits that register voters also want an official statement saying the old form is okay so people can use it with confidence, Torres said.

Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email that it ordered 545,000 forms and is expecting to receive 115,000 today. Those will be distributed right away, he wrote.

Brad Deen, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said in an email Friday they were able to find paper on Sept. 20 that Correction Enterprises can use to print the rest of the Board of Elections’ order. That paper “is in the state purchasing process,” Deen wrote. When the paper is delivered, it will take four days to print and cut the forms to size.

“We understand the importance of the forms and their role in ensuring a smooth voting and election process,” Deen wrote.  “Toward that end, Correction Enterprises will expedite printing and make partial deliveries as soon as completed forms are available.”

Oct. 14 is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election. Applications are available to download from the Board of Elections website for people who wish to register by mail. State DMV customers – people who have a Social Security number and a North Carolina driver’s license or a DMV-issued ID number can register to vote or update their addresses online.

People who miss the Oct. 14 deadline can still register if they go to vote in person during the early voting period, which starts Oct. 20 and ends Nov. 5.

Fellman said the registration form shortage has made her organization’s work harder. Sometimes local elections offices will have the updated forms, she said, but not in the quantities You Can Vote needs.

“We’re not registering fewer people, but it makes our job harder and more expensive,” she said. “Smaller groups that do voter registration, they don’t have the budget to print their own forms.”

Robert Dawkins, political director for Action NC, said they went ahead and used the old forms to register about 3,200 people after being told by the Mecklenburg County elections board that it wouldn’t be a problem.

“People cannot be disenfranchised because people cannot get their forms together,” Dawkins said.

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A shortage in voter registration forms frustrates NC nonprofits