On May 8, 2015, three nonpartisan voter engagement organizations—Action NC, Democracy North Carolina, and the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, sent a notice letter to the Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, Kim Strach, as well as Secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) informing them that the state’s public assistance agencies were regularly failing to provide voter registration services to individuals engaging in application, renewal, recertification, or change-of-address transactions, in violation of Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”).
The organizations, as well as three North Carolina residents, sent a second letter to Director Strach, as well as the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of Transportation, on June 1, 2015, notifying them that the state’s motor vehicle agency was also failing to meet its federal voter registration obligations. The letter informed Strach and the agency heads that the motor vehicle agency was routinely failing to transmit voter registration information submitted by clients who applied for, renewed, or changed the address associated with their license in-person, and was failing to provide any voter registration services during online change-of-address transactions, in violation of Section 5 of the NVRA.
Each of the three North Carolina residents who sent the June 1, 2015 letter noted that they had registered or updated their registration information at a motor vehicle office, that their names were not on the poll books when they went to vote, and that they were each forced to cast a provisional ballot that was not counted. The organizations also noted that, as a result of the state’s non-compliance with Sections 5 and 7 of the NVRA, they were forced to divert their limited time and resources to register individuals who should have been reached by the state and often had to field calls from motor vehicle clients who showed up to the polls to vote only to be told that they were not properly registered.
In December 2015, after giving North Carolina officials more than 90 days to address the problems identified in the notice letters, the impacted organizations and individuals sued Strach and the agency heads.
Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction in advance of the November 2016 elections to rectify, among other things, problems transmitting voter registration information from the state's motor vehicle agency to election officials. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ordered that ballots cast by individuals who visited the motor vehicle agency between the summer of 2015 and the October 2016 voter registration deadline must be counted if they had visited the motor vehicle office during that time and there was no affirmative proof that the voter declined the opportunity to register. This injunction ensured that approximately 1,500 voters who cast a ballot on Election Day were able to have their votes counted.The Election Director and motor vehicle agency also began offering voter registration services during online transactions during the course of litigation.
On June 25, 2018, the parties filed a settlement agreement with the District Court. This agreement required the agencies and SOS to make comprehensive improvements to ensure that voter registration forms are distributed, individuals receive assistance filling out voter registration forms form if needed, and that forms are properly collected and transmitted to election officials. As a result of our intervention, the number of voter registrations collected by the North Carolina public assistance agencies increased by an estimated 61,524.
Democracy North Carolina, Action NC, Sherry Denise Holverson, Alexandria Marie Lane, and Isabel Najera.
Demos’ co-counsel were Project Vote, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, North Carolina ACLU, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and American Civil Liberties Union.