RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina NAACP is preparing to take legal action against the state Board of Elections for suppressing voter registration.
Just months after the NAACP won a three-year legal battle against a North Carolina voter identification guide, NAACP President William Barber II said Friday that the state Board of Elections was in violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration act as thousands of black citizens in this battleground state were having their voting registration challenged in court.
“Voting fraud is a distraction: statistically and legally nonexistent,” Barber said. “It is in fact voter suppression that is the real threat in this election.”
Dozens of delegates at NAACP state convention surrounded Barber as he spoke in front of the North Carolina Governor’s mansion, bearing signs that read, “Vote because black lives are on the ballot” or “vote because education is on the ballot,” and chanting “Yes!” or “amen” as he spoke.
In North Carolina and 45 other states, private citizens can challenge other individuals’ registration to vote, often bringing in a piece of mail as evidence the voter no longer lives in at his or her listed address. The NAACP has received reports that 400 people in Beaufort County, 130 people in Belhaven County and 3,500 people in Cumberland County have been denied access to voting, Barber said.
The State Board of Elections wrote in a letter to the NAACP that there were roughly 4,500 challenges, including 3,951 in the Cumberland County.
Challenged citizens can lose their registration if they don’t appear in court to defend themselves.
In response to the allegations, the Board of Elections sent a letter to the North Carolina NAACP asserting that it was in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act because it notifies voters they were being challenged and gives them enough time to appear in court.
Barber and the delegates rallied around the case of Grace Bell Hardison, a 101-year old woman who was informed that if she didn’t appear in court, she would lose her voter registration. Hardison had not returned mail sent to her by a Republican candidate for mayor over the summer.
“There are those still out there who are trying to claim that our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts are fraudulent by bringing a piece of mail to their county board,” Barber said.
Republicans leaders nationwide have insisted that challenging voter registrations and similar voter-ID measures is necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, a 2015 report from the Brennan Center at the New York University School of Law found that “many states’ challenger laws are susceptible to abuse,” and challenges are largely “targeted at voters of color, student voters and voters with disabilities.”
The NAACP’s pending lawsuit all but assures a fight over voting rights in North Carolina at least up to Election Day. In July, the organization won a three-year battle to overturn HB 369, a stringent voter-ID law, when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law’s provisions “were enacted with racially discriminatory intent” against blacks. The Supreme Court denied North Carolina’s appeal in August.
Caitlin Swain, one of the organization’s attorneys, said the NAACP hopes a court will stop the challenged registrations from going through before Nov. 8.
Although the NAACP is only challenging voter purging, Swain said its leaders are actively exploring further litigation against allegations of alternate forms of suppression, including voter intimidation.
“Our goal is to make sure every voter knows that their vote will be protected this election,” Swain said.
Black leaders in several counties have reported people wearing T-shirts photographing and heckling during 9″souls to the polls” events, wherein black churches lead parishioners en mass to the vote.
The Rev. Kenneth Brooks, pastor of a church leading early voting efforts in Pittsboro, said someone drew a swastika on his church, writing “KKK” and “White Power.” When the church members went to vote, a man in a “Make America Great Again” T-shirt told them they were “part of the rigged election,” he said.
“We were the victim of what I would call voter intimidation at its best,” Brooks said.
The town of Pittsboro is investigating the case, Brooks and NAACP attorneys said.