New York, NY — North Carolina is taking a number of steps to be in full compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, specifically its requirement that states offer voter registration opportunities in public assistance agencies, according to a new report published this week by Demos, a national election reform and voting rights policy center.
Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) with two primary aims: increasing voter registration opportunities and ensuring the integrity of the voting process. Yet, while most states created effective programs for mail-in and Department of Motor Vehicles-based registration processes, many neglected the NVRA's Section 7 requirement that states offer voter registration in public assistance agencies.
The new study published this week, entitled Expanding Voter Registration for Low-Income Citizens: How North Carolina is realizing the promise of the National Voter Registration Act, details how the state's NVRA's public assistance voter registration efforts had lapsed in recent years, despite initial success. Since being notified in June 2006 of their declining registration numbers in public assistance offices by the NVRA Implementation Project--a partnership of Demos, Project Vote, ACORN and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — the State Board of Elections has worked diligently to improve implementation of this vital law.
In the early part of the decade, registrations at public assistance agencies had declined sharply. Report findings include:
· Public assistance voter registrations in North Carolina declined by 73.5 percent between 1995-1996 and 2003-2004. Between 2003 and 2005 alone, public assistance voter registrations declined statewide by 16 percent, though the number of households participating in the Food Stamp Program increased by 24 percent and WIC program participation increased by 6.5 percent.
· Public assistance offices in 25 counties experienced a decrease in registrations in 2004 as compared to 2003 — even though 2004 was a presidential election year and logically should have seen an upswing in registrations.
· In 2005, public assistance offices in each of 35 counties registered fewer than 10 clients; offices in 11 of those 35 counties did not register a single client, and four counties failed to register even one client in the three years for which data was provided.
Once notified, the North Carolina State Board of Elections took immediate steps, with guidance from the NVRA Implementation Project and Lawyers' Committee, to meet Section 7 requirements, including: distributing to the agencies signs that alerted clients to the opportunity to register; identifying NVRA coordinators for each county; revising the training manual; establishing an 800 number help desk; and, holding the first of its biannual meetings with agency heads.
Results of the improved compliance were almost immediate:
· Although the SBOE has received only the first reports from the local public assistance agencies, the improvements already are remarkable: Eleven percent more voters were registered in the single month of February 2007 than in the entire year of 2005 in the 30 counties providing complete monthly data.
· Twenty-two of the 30 counties reporting complete monthly data registered more voters in the single month of February 2007 than they did in all of 2005. Many of these counties registered more than twice as many voters in February 2007 compared to all of 2005.
· Mecklenburg and Guilford Counties, two urban counties with sizable low-income populations, experienced significant gains in voter registrations. Guilford County registered over 30 times as many people in the single month of February 2007 as it did in all of 2005. Similarly, Mecklenburg County registered significantly more voters in February 2007 than in all of 2005.
· Beaufort County, a county with a 17.4 percent poverty rate, saw an increase of over 1,000 percent in voter registrations in March 2007 compared to 2005.
"The single greatest right, and responsibility, of any US citizen is the ability to vote," said Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of North Carolina's State Board of Elections. "The National Voter Registration Act charges all election officials with the responsibility to protect that privilege by ensuring that the opportunity to register to vote is readily available to all eligible citizens."
"North Carolina has always been committed to providing citizens with access to voter registration and certainly appreciates the information and resources provided to us by the NVRA Implementation Project. The revitalization of our agency voter registration program can be credited to the hard work and dedication of many individuals. It is our sincere desire to continuously improve our current efforts and to become a resource for any state working to improve their own compliance with Section 7 of NVRA."
To view the full report, Expanding Voter Registration for Low-Income Citizens: How North Carolina is realizing the promise of the National Voter Registration Act, visit archive.demos.org.