Voting Rights Groups Call on State to Fix Voter Registration at DMVs, or Face Litigation
(New York, Raleigh, Washington, D.C.) – Attorneys for Action NC, Democracy North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), and several North Carolina residents sent a pre-litigation notice letter today to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE), as well as Secretary of Transportation Anthony Tata and Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Kelly Thomas alleging that the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) is failing to meet its voter registration obligations.
“The problem is systemic—it’s occurring across the state and affecting voters of all political persuasions."
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), commonly known as “Motor Voter,” requires the DMV to provide voter registration services whenever an individual applies for, renews, or changes their address on a driver’s license or state-issued identification card. DMVs are then required to transmit this information to the appropriate election official within 10 days (or 5 days if a voter registers or changes their information within 5 days of the close of registration).
Today’s letter—sent on behalf of the individuals and voting rights groups by attorneys from Dēmos, Project Vote, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—cites clear evidence that the DMV is violating its legal requirement to provide voter registration services and transmit registration information to election officials.
This letter comes little more than three weeks after the same organizations notified North Carolina that it was in violation of the provisions of the NVRA requiring the State to provide public assistance clients with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote. The letter provides North Carolina with official notice that its DMVs are failing to comply with the NVRA, starting a 90-day timeline for the State to come into compliance or face litigation.
“Voters who either registered to vote or updated their voter information through the DMV are routinely being told that they are not on the rolls when they go to the polls to vote,” said Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “They are being cheated out of their right to vote.”
“Transmittal problems are not limited to an office or geographic region,” said Stuart Naifeh, Counsel at Dēmos. “The problem is systemic—it’s occurring across the state and affecting voters of all political persuasions. North Carolina needs to take immediate steps to make sure that its citizens are not being disenfranchised as a result of errors by the DMV or election officials.”
According to today’s letter, in the 2014 General Election, numerous individuals who thought they had registered to vote at the DMV were forced to cast provisional ballots because their names were not on the voter registration rolls. For instance, in Mecklenburg County, out of nearly 880 provisional ballots cast, 157 (nearly 18%) were cast by individuals who said they had registered at the DMV.
“As an organization that’s dedicated to increasing the number of individuals registered and engaging in the political process, we are clearly troubled by the fact the voters across the state are going to the polls, ready to participate, and being forced to vote provisionally,” said Pat McCoy, Executive Director of Action NC. “The voices of these voters are often completely silenced because the fact that the voter registered or updated their information with the DMV cannot be verified.”
Sherry Holverson, one of the individuals on whose behalf today’s notice letter was sent, is a qualified North Carolina voter who changed her registration information at a DMV office after moving from one county to another. When Ms. Holverson went to the early voting site to cast a ballot, she was told that her name was not on the registration rolls and was given a provisional ballot. Her provisional ballot was ultimately not counted.
“You do everything right, and it doesn’t make a difference,” Ms. Holverson stated.
“We spoke to a lot of people who registered or updated their information with the DMV and were forced to vote provisionally because their names did not make it onto the rolls,” said Catherine M. Flanagan, Senior Counsel for Project Vote. “Some ultimately had their ballots counted, but others, such as our client Sherry Holverson, did not. They were disenfranchised as a result of the State’s violation of the NVRA.”
Information provided in response to records requests reveal that in more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties, voters who cast provisional ballots in the 2014 General Election because their names did not appear on the rolls had, in fact, registered to vote through the DMV.
“Clearly there is a major breakdown in the DMV voter registration process,” said Allison Riggs, a senior attorney at Southern Coalition. “The DMV’s transmittal system is archaic and inefficient: it requires that voter registration applications be transmitted both in paper and electronic form before an individual’s name is added to the rolls. Establishing clear, streamlined procedures and improving training will help the DMV meet its NVRA obligations.”
“If an individual registered with the DMV, they should be able to enter the voting site with confidence that they will be able to cast a regular ballot and have their vote counted,” said Melvin Montford, President of the North Carolina APRI. “It is our hope that given the universality of this problem, all actors will come to the table committed to identifying and implementing policies and procedures that will help protect the fundamental right to vote.”
Demos: Donté Donald, 212-485-6012, [email protected]
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: Stacie Royster, 202-662-8317, [email protected]
Project Vote: Michael McDunnah, 202-905-1397, [email protected]
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice: Allison Riggs, 919-323-3380 ext.117, [email protected]