A new Civitas Institute study has confirmed what critics have been saying for years: North Carolina’s Same Day and Last-Minute Voter Registration processes are seriously flawed.
In July 2007, the North Carolina Legislature passed House Bill 91, (Registration and Voting at One-Stop Sites). The law allowed voters to register and vote during a one-stop early voting procedure called Same Day Registration (SDR).
After the 2008 General Election, the State Board of Elections (SBOE) issued a favorable report echoing the glowing reviews of a focus group made up of the following liberal groups: Democracy NC, NAACP, NC Fair Share and NC Center for Voter Education. Unfortunately, the SBOE has ignored criticism of the process, including recommendations made by a group of 10 counties who also met in 2009 (at the request of the SBOE) to discuss SDR.
The 10 counties raised questions about the validity of some of the registrations and ultimately some votes. According to one county, there were “numerous undeliverable voter registration cards returned after the canvass time-frame which allowed the voter’s vote to count and it should not have.” And another county voiced a similar concern: “We have one-stop voter verification cards which did not complete their mailing cycle prior to canvass day.”
The counties are highlighting an egregious flaw in the process: Voters who register to vote and vote during SDR bypass the necessary address verification process — which all other voters must undergo — when registering to vote. SDR voters do not go through this process because there is not enough time to complete the verification process before the certification of the election. So there are thousands of SDR voters who have had their registrations “denied” — but only after their votes were counted and the election certified. Once an election is certified, the votes stand.
The way some counties handled the registration and verification process during early voting meant ballots from some voters who were not properly verified, but their votes still counted.
The Civitas Institute’s research into the 2008 vote showed that SDR does not allow for completion of the verification process — not only for “Same-Day” registrants but also for voters who register during the last days before the voter registration deadline (25 days prior to Election Day). These voters registered to vote in accordance with state law and were then eligible to vote as soon as eight days later, on the first day of One-Stop Voting. This resulted in more than 6,000 new voters being “denied,” but only after their votes were counted in 2008. And even more voters were placed in inactive status because the county boards of elections were unable or did not follow administrative procedures.
We wanted to take another look at SDR during the May 2012 Primary Election, to see if the county election boards were able to comply with verification procedures. But, given the SBOE’s lack of interest in this problem, this time we wanted to take the SBOE out of the equation, and contact voters directly.
We chose five counties — Buncombe, Durham, New Hanover, Pasquotank and Wake — to include in our own mailing to check on voters’ status. Our plan was to see how many voters’ letters would be returned as undeliverable, indicating they were not at the address they gave to election officials. We would mail to two sets of voters: First, those who registered to vote at the end of the regular registration time, between March 1 and April 13, 2012 (the deadline to register to vote), and, second, those voters who registered to vote during SDR.
We had to look in two places to obtain the voters’ names and addresses: 1) The SDR voters were in the absentee voter file provided by the State Board of Elections during absentee voting. 2) The March and April registrants were also obtained through the SBOE’s FTP site in voter registration files.
In order to reach voters by mail, we needed something to send them. A survey made sense to us. We mailed two different surveys to the two groups of voters, but the questions in each were similar. Questions included: why they registered to vote, how satisfied they were with the registration process, and whether they thought a voter should be required to show ID to vote.
It is important to note that only one piece of mail was mailed to the voters and the county boards would be required to send at least one more follow-up mailing before moving a voter from active to inactive or denied status. Nevertheless, a single mailing provides a strong indication of what is happening.
The first surveys were mailed on April 20 and 21 to voters who registered to vote between March 1 and April 13, 2012 (the deadline to register to vote). A total of 17,531 surveys were mailed to these voters and 531 were returned to us as undeliverable — a 3.06 percent rate.
To put that in perspective, in the 45 days leading up to the 2008 General Election voter registration deadline more than 200,000 people registered to vote. So in a general election with a return rate of 3.06 percent would number approximately 6,000 verification mailings returned as “undeliverable”.
Then a total of 5,019 surveys were mailed to SDR voters. The surveys were mailed on three different dates – two dates before Election Day and the last on May 12, four days after the Primary Election. These mailings produced 365 undeliverable pieces of mail — a rate of 7.3 percent (more than twice the rate of those who registered during the normal registration process).
In the 2008 General Election more than 103,000 people registered to vote using the SDR system. A return rate of 7.3 percent would mean nearly 8,000 voter cards returned as undeliverable.
We believe that these results are valid and reasonable and suggest that statewide thousands of people were improperly registered in 2008 and in every subsequent election since 2008 – enough to swing elections.
Look at the difference in the presidential vote in 2008 — President Obama won North Carolina by only 14,173 votes. And in other past Council of State races, even smaller numbers of voters could have changed the outcome. This includes the 2004 race for Commissioner of Agriculture, where Steve Troxler won by only 2,287 votes, and in 2000 in the Commissioner of Labor contest, where Cherie Berry won by just over 7,000.
Civitas believes that Same Day Registration results in treating voters differently and has ultimately created yet a new class of voters – a class whose residency and qualification to vote are not properly verified. We also believe that SDR will lead to questionable election outcomes and should be eliminated immediately in order protect the integrity of our elections.