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North Carolina Fails to Meet Its Voter Registration Obligations

Naila Awan

Less than 10 years ago Demos and other voting rights groups approached North Carolina after an investigation revealed that the state was failing to meet its obligations under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act—a federal law that requires North Carolina provide individuals who apply for public assistance the opportunity to register to vote.

North Carolina election officials acknowledged the problem and wanted to fix it, and we were able to work cooperatively with the state to develop and implement a compliance plan that increased registration numbers at public assistance agencies six-fold in just a couple of years.

Part of this plan required the state to report its registration numbers to Demos and others so that we could monitor the progress being made.

For a number of years, North Carolina’s public assistance registration numbers remained strong. However, in the past two years, the number of registration applications originating from public assistance agencies has dramatically dropped. For instance, from 2011, the year when registration numbers were at their peak, to 2014, the number of applications dropped by nearly 69%—from 42,988 to 13,340.










Number of Applications Submitted by Public Assistance Agencies










This deep decline in applications cannot be explained by an equally stark drop in the number of public assistance clients in North Carolina or with political apathy. In 2014, the year that saw the greatest drop, there were several highly contested elections in the state, and yet the spike in registrations seen in other election years did not occur.

Late last year, alarmed by the falling numbers, Demos and other voting rights advocates sent investigators to a number of public assistance offices across the state to find out what was behind the data. What the investigators found was as disturbing as the numbers themselves:  Nearly three-quarters (74.5%) of individuals engaging in covered transactions at public assistance offices did not receive any offer of voter registration.

That is why today, we sent a notice letter to Kim Strach, the Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and Dr. Aldona Wos, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, outlining the Section 7 violations we have observed to date and beginning a 90-day period in which the state must come into compliance with Section 7 or face litigation.

Demos has previously published reports finding that politicians tend to ignore the interests of non-voters, who disproportionately are low-income individuals and that the interests of the wealthy, donor-class—whose interests are disproportionately represented and advocated for by politicians—do not align with the policies that the general public wants to see advanced in the political sphere.

Improving compliance with Section 7 of the NVRA will help North Carolina ensure that its government is reflective of all the state’s citizens.