NAACP sues N.C. over removals in voter rolls
RALEIGH, N.C. — Local election boards in North Carolina are illegally removing thousands of voters from the rolls, and a disproportionate number of them are black, the NAACP said in a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
Voters are being removed because of challenges filed by individuals, which the NAACP says is illegal under federal law less than 90 days before an election. However, state officials say it’s legal under state law.
Early voting already has begun in this critical swing state, where officials and the courts have tussled over voting hours and other issues of poll access.
“We will not back down and allow this suppression (against African-Americans) to continue,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
The group’s lawsuit zeroes in on Cumberland, Moore and Beaufort counties, where thousands of voters’ names have been challenged. In most cases, mail sent to an address is returned as undeliverable, which county boards can accept as evidence that the voter no longer lives there.
The lawsuit says the state law, and the removals, are in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. It also asks to restore the names of voters who already have been removed. An emergency hearing was scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem.
Among those challenged in Beaufort County was a 100-year-old black woman, Grace Bell Hardison, who uses a post office box for mail. She learned about the challenge from a list in the local newspaper, said her nephew, Greg Satterthwaite. Her options were to go to a hearing — but she only leaves her home once a month — or sign a form, get it notarized and have someone attend the hearing for her.
“Her first reaction was ‘I can’t vote. I can’t vote,’ ” he said. “She was really upset.”
Said Hardison, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit: “I’m still going to vote. I always vote.”
The man who filed that and many other challenges in the county, Shane Hubers, said he abandoned it after learning of Hardison’s situation. He said he told county election officials he’ll do the same if people have an explanation: “I’m not vindictive.”
Individuals have challenged 4,500 voters in Beaufort, Cumberland and Moore counties in August and September — with more than 3,900 of those in Cumberland County, the director of the State Board of Elections, Kim Westbrook Strach, said in a letter to the NAACP.
However, it’s not clear how many of those people have had their registrations struck from the rolls.
People can register to vote and vote on the same day during early voting, which continues through Saturday. However, if someone removed from the rolls tries to vote on Election Day, they cast a provisional ballot that a county board of elections must then decide whether to count.
Americans cast their ballots during early voting recently in Winston-Salem, N.C.