Expanding Voter Registration for Low-Income Citizens: How North Carolina is Realizing the Promise of the National Voter Registration Act

Expanding Voter Registration for Low-Income Citizens: How North Carolina is Realizing the Promise of the National Voter Registration Act

April 1, 2008
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When Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993, its goals were to “increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office” and “protect the integrity of the electoral process.”Yet, while most states created effective programs for mail-in and Department of Motor Vehicles-based registration processes, many neglected the NVRA’s social service agency requirements (detailed in Section 7 of the Act).  This paper outlines and highlights the outstanding and thorough work of the North Carolina Board of Elections in responding to evidence that the state was falling short of NVRA Section 7 requirements.  In 18 months, the state became a model for NVRA compliance, boasting an almost six-fold increase in the number of public assistance clients registering to vote.

TOP FACTS:

  • North Carolina was not regularly providing voter registration services at its public assistance offices.  Federal data indicated a 73.5 percent decline in public assistance voter registrations between initial implementation of the law in 1995-1996 and 2003-2004.  County data indicated that public assistance offices were not providing voter registration services as required.  Surveys conducted outside public assistance offices in Raleigh and Greensboro yielded not a single person who was offered voter registration services.
  • Discussions with the North Carolina State Board of Elections resulted in a comprehensive compliance plan for the state.  The compliance plan contained many elements, including important requirements concerning coordination, procedures, training, data collection, reporting, and oversight.
  • The North Carolina experience shows that effective NVRA implementation in public assistance agencies can greatly increase the number of low-income citizens registering to vote.  Between February 2007 and February 2008, North Carolina’s public assistance agencies registered over 34,400 low-income voters, or an average of 2,873 per month.  In contrast, the state registered a total of only 11,607 voters in its public assistance offices during the entire preceding two years, an average of only 484 per month.  Thus, the data suggest an almost six-fold increase in the number of clients registering to vote as a result of re-implementation.