Thousands of low-income North Carolinians are taking advantage of new voter registration opportunities at public assistance agencies, thanks to reforms instituted by the state’s Board of Election in partnership with Project Vote, Demos and Lawyers Committee.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, commonly known as the “motor voter” law, requires state public assistance agencies to offer voter registration opportunities to applicants and clients. Most states, however, are failing to comply with the law. A 2005 study by Project Vote, Demos and ACORN found that registrations had declined nationwide by 59 percent, from 2.6 million applications in 1995-1996 to just over 1.1 million in 2003-2004. Investigations found that the declines resulted from widespread noncompliance by state agencies.
In North Carolina, registrations had declined by 73.5 percent in the period between 1995-1996 and 2003-2004, from 74,882 to just 19,789. An investigation by ACORN found agencies were failing to provide registration opportunities to clients. Project Vote, Demos and Lawyers Committee met with the Executive Director of the state’s Board of Election, Gary Bartlett, to discuss steps the state could take to improve registration. In a short order, the parties had developed a comprehensive plan that included closer cooperation between the BOE and state agencies, better and more regular training of agency staff and regular reporting of data from agencies to election officials.
The results were immediate. Our partners at Demos crunched the numbers and found that:
Eleven percent more voters were registered in the single month of February 2007 than in the entire year of 2005 in the 30 counties providing complete monthly data. In February and March 2007, at least 5,441 new low-income North Carolinians were brought into the democratic process through voter registration services offered at public assistance agencies.
+Twenty-two of the 30 counties reporting complete monthly data registered more voters in the single month of February 2007 than they did in all of 2005. Many of these counties experienced increases of over 100 percent in February compared to all of 2005.
+Mecklenburg and Guilford Counties, two urban counties with sizable low-income populations, experienced significant gains in voter registrations. Guilford County, which includes the city of Greensboro, registered over 30 times as many people in the single month of February as it did in all of 2005. Similarly, Mecklenburg County, which includes the city of Charlotte, registered significantly more voters in February than in all of 2005.
+Beaufort County, a county with a 17.4 percent poverty rate, saw an increase of over 1,000 percent in voter registrations in March 2007 compared to 2005.
+Of the 35 counties that registered fewer than 10 people in all of 2005, 19 are now actively registering clients and reporting their progress to the SBOE.
Election officials in North Carolina join those in Iowa as role model for states taking effective action to not only to bring their states into compliance with the NVRA but also to bring more of their low-income citizens into the democratic process.