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Election Day Registration Bill Passes in NC Despite Uproar Caused by State Voter Rolls

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Weekly Voting Rights News Update

This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.


Featured Story of the Week:

N.C. Senate approves same-day voter registration bill – Associated Press

Wednesday, the North Carolina Senate voted 33-15 in favor of election day registration bill, HB 91, according to the Associated Press (AP). But, controversy over the state's voter registration records in recent weeks had potential to stop the bill's progress.

HB 91 allows residents to go to early voting sites where they may register and vote on the same day in the final 2 ½ weeks before an election. Currently, voter registration ends 25 days prior to an election. Based on figures from the advocacy group, Demos, turnout could increase by 5.4 percentage points if the bill is implemented, especially among young people, AP reported. “Opponents, mostly Republicans, have said the identification requirements in the bill were too lax,” including utility bills and bank statements,” writer Gary Robertson reported. The bill is now back in the House to consider Senate amendments, including one requiring registration forms and ballots to be English-only, “except where federal law requires differently.”The bill passed the House in March.


On Saturday, the Wilmington Star ran this Associated Press story on state and federal officials investigating state voter rolls for ineligible, underage and dead voters

State Auditor Leslie Merritt's office initially reported finding 24,821 invalid driver's license numbers, numerous underage voters, and 380 dead voters. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said a number of the findings were a “fundamental misunderstanding” and “accused Merritt's office of misleading the elections board and of rejecting its help.”

Merritt “deviated” from standard practice of sharing the preliminary findings with the subject and allowing them to “rebut the findings and have some input in the final report.” Instead, he shared findings with lawmakers involved with the EDR bill, “asking that they pull the bill from the Senate's June 5 floor calendar.”

Moreover, Bartlett refuted the “faulty” findings: “-many of the 'dead' voters had actually voted absentee and then died before Election Day. Also, at least some 'underage' voters cast ballots legally because state law allows 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election if they will be 18 the day of the general election”

The Department of Justice also “found irregularities in the number of people registered to vote” in April, to which Bartlett pointed to flaws in the DOJ analysis: “For example, he said, election officials have to wait two consecutive federal elections to remove someone who has simply been inactive, which can cause voter rolls to appear inflated in counties with a highly mobile population.” Read the Justice Department letter here. Read Bartlett's response here.

By Tuesday, the Merritt withdrewhis initial findings and said there was no longer reason to delay the EDR bill, according to the Associated Press.

“When you blow the whistle while the process is still incomplete and then aren't able to say to us whether there is a problem or is not a problem...it does create a very awkward situation,”said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, a co-chairman of the Senate Committee on Government and Election Reform.”

“Either Les Merritt is incompetent, lacking even a basic understanding of election law, or he's using his position as State Auditor to pursue the partisan agenda of the national Republican Party,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek. Merritt denies partisanship influencing the premature disclosure of the preliminary findings, although he admitted such action was unusual. The auditor also denied coordination with the Justice Department review of the state's voter rolls.

In Other News:

Arguing that many non citizen, legal residents are concerned with the same issues as citizens, pay taxes and serve in the military, supporters in states including Massachusetts and New York say legal-resident voting should be legal, according to the June 18 edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

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