Democracy NC calls NYT voter registration story "inflammatory" | News

Democracy NC calls NYT voter registration story "inflammatory"

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An investigative story published in the New York Times this week -- and picked up by The N&O today -- says North Carolina is among several swing states in which thousands of voters "have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law."

Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan election watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, is unconvinced.

Hall released a statement today saying the story failed to provide any evidence of the alleged wrongdoing, and that it "has the same effect as a devious rumor aimed at disenfranchising voters."

The Times report concludes that election officials in North Carolina and other states erred in using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters.

"So what?" Hall said. "That is how the system is supposed to work."

Hall's full statement is below:

Statement from Bob Hall, Executive Director, Democracy North Carolina

The New York Time[s] included North Carolina in an article about six states with possible “improper purges” of voters from registration rolls, but it failed to provide any evidence that North Carolina voters have in fact been purged or “blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law.” This is an example of how the media’s desire for “gotcha” stories can overtake its responsibility for accurate reporting. It is particularly reprehensible because it can make North Carolinians worry that they won’t be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming election; in other words, it has the same effect as a devious rumor aimed at disenfranchising voters.

Editors and election watchdogs, including Democracy North Carolina, need to understand and examine the voter registration process in North Carolina before they question its validity and make claims about its deficiencies.

As the director of a nonpartisan organization involved in registering new voters and also monitoring elections officials in North Carolina, I can tell you that the most pervasive registration problems happen because of human error on the part of the voter or the volunteer registering that person. Forms are submitted that are incomplete or partly illegible; they are submitted without the person’s signature or without any identification number. In our experience, Social Security numbers are often provided, rather than the driver’s license number, so it is not surprising that out of 700,000 new registrations in the past year in North Carolina, the Social Security administration’s computers would receive a large volume to match. So what? That is how the system is supposed to work. Even if a match is not found, the new registrant in North Carolina is not “purged” but remains in the database, gets contacted by the local election officials, and has multiple chances to provide additional information and cast a ballot that counts.

Like all of us, elections officials make mistakes, but at least in North Carolina there are a number of procedures in place that minimize the chance that a person eligible to participate in an election will be denied the right to vote and have that vote counted. We have worked with state and local election officials to improve those procedures, and agree with most national voting rights advocates that North Carolina is a leader in the integrity of its election administration system.

The harder problem continues to be cynical rumors and false information from ill-informed, sometimes well-intended, sources, now including the New York Times (and local re-printers who failed to check the story with state election officials). Certainly, there have been serious problems with lost ballots and election manipulation. The public should remain vigilant, and individuals with any doubts should confirm their registration status through websites like 2008ElectionConnection.com or by calling their local board of elections. What we don’t need are inflammatory stories about stolen elections or cheated voters that have no basis in fact.

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