The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is suing the state of North Carolina after the state engaged in what the NAACP described as “a coordinated effort right out of the GOP playbook to suppress the Black vote in the state.”
Three counties — Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland — sent pieces of mail to registered voters. If the mail came back undelivered or the person did not show up to a hearing to fight for their eligibility to vote, their registration was purged. Essentially, people — disproportionately Blacks, who tend to be Democratic voters — are having their right to vote challenged over a lost piece of mail.
On Wednesday evening, in an emergency hearing over the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs said the process sounds “insane.”
“This sounds like something that was put together in 1901,” she said.
Biggs also said the number of removals in Cumberland County specifically “horrified” her. Cumberland removed roughly 5,600 voters, while Moore removed 790 and Beaufort removed 63.
“It almost looks like a cattle call, the way people are being purged,” she said to lawyers.
State officials insist that they are not in the wrong because they are not removing voters in a systemic manner. However, the Department of Justice has also weighed in, siding with the NAACP, and filed a statement of interest on November 1. According to the statement, the removals were in fact systemic and that requiring voters to come to an individual hearing did not change that:
“As alleged, the voter challenges at issue were based on large scale mailings and were filed and processed en masse by county boards dozens, hundreds, or even thousands at a time. … As described, the purge program at issue here rested on a mass mailing and the silence of voters largely unaware of the potential injury to their voting rights. A perfunctory administrative proceeding to consider evidence produced by a mass mailing does not turn an otherwise prohibited systematic process into an ‘individualized’ removal.”
Penda Hair, the lead attorney for the NAACP in the lawsuit, called the move “a very pernicious treatment of voters.”
In at least two of the counties, Hair stated, “the people who brought the challenges had connections to the local Republican Party. We also know that the pattern of these challenges is very similar across the counties.”
And in Moore County specifically, “the return address of a right-wing group called the Voter Integrity Project appeared on the piece of mail that was used to challenge voters.”
The Voter Integrity Project is a North Carolina-based right-wing group allegedly committed to preventing the repeatedly debunked myth of voter fraud.
“Election theft is a crime against our constitution, the fabric of our freedoms,” the group says on its website. “Vote[r] fraud disenfranchises everybody, because it destroys public trust in our entire system. When election officials, academic types and media minions deny its existence and attack those who dare to differ, they are aiding and abetting its perpetrators. [W]e deserve better.”
The Brennan Center for Justice and other credible sources have concluded that voter fraud is a guise for suppressing minority voters.
North Carolina, a key swing state, has been under national scrutiny this election cycle. In July a U.S. appeals court struck down the state’s photo ID law. In its ruling, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit said the state legislature targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
In Beaufort County, 100-year-old Grace Bell Hardison, who has been on the voting rolls for 30 years, almost lost her right to vote thanks to this practice. Hardison was told that if she did not appear before the county Board of Elections meeting or return a notarized form, she would be removed from the voting rolls.
“My mail comes to the post office,” Hardison said in an interview. “I don’t have no mail come to the house. Ever since I’ve been here, my mail has been coming to the post office.”