A national watchdog alleges that the Guilford and Mecklenburg county board of elections are in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and has threatened to sue the counties and the NC State Board of Elections if they do no comply by early March.
Here are the specific charges against the Guilford County BOE:
- The County has a total registration rate of 102%. To be clear, the number of voter registrations exceeds the number of citizens in the County who are old enough to register to vote.
- There are about 72,000 inactive voter registrations on the County’s rolls, or about one out of every five registrations.
- The County reported removing only about 3400 voter registrations per year in the last reporting period on the grounds that the registrants failed to respond to an address confirmation notice and failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections. This is a very low number of removals for a county of this size.
And the charges against the Mecklenburg County BOE:
- The County has a total registration rate of 107%. To be clear, the number of voter registrations exceeds the number of citizens in the County who are old enough to register to vote.
- There are about 115,000 inactive voter registrations on the County’s rolls, or about 16% of all registrations.
- The County reported removing only about 11,000 voter registrations per year during the last reporting period on the grounds that the registrants failed to respond to an address confirmation notice and failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections. This is a very low number of removals for a county of this size.
I checked voter registration in those two counties using Civitas’ Carolina Elections voter registration database and other data sources. As of January 4, Mecklenburg County had 736,168 voter registrations while Guilford had 358,960. The problem is that the Census Bureau estimates that Mecklenburg County only has about 693,740 voting-age citizens while Guilford County only has about 371,190. In other words, Mecklenburg County has more registered voters than they have voting-age citizens and Guilford County has an improbably high voter registration rate of 97 percent. (NOTE: an earlier version of this article stated that Guilford County also had more registrations than voting-age citizens. While its total is high, I found that it was slightly less than 100 percent of voting-aged citizens.)
The over-registration in Mecklenburg and Guilford counties persists despite prior work in both counties to remove inactive registrations from the voter rolls. The last period of large-scale voter list maintenance (sometimes called purges) in North Carolina took place in early January 2019, during which North Carolina had a net loss of 576,534 voter registrations (a decline of about 8.1 percent). During that same period, Mecklenburg County had a net loss of 50,373 registrations (a 6.7 percent decline) and Guilford had a net loss of 32,032 registrations (an 8.5 percent decline). While the Mecklenburg County rate of decline was below the state average, it does not appear to be unusually so and may be due to high levels of net in-migration.
(It would be inaccurate to say that voters are purged during list maintenance; the registrations are removed because the people associated with them have not been voting in the county in which they are registered.)
I reached out to the North Carolina, Mecklenburg, and Guilford boards of elections for their reactions to the allegations. While neither of the county boards was able to reply in time for this post, the state board’s public information officer, Patrick Gannon, sent me a copy of a 2017 letter from the Executive Director Kim Strach to Judicial Watch addressing similar charges. That letter reads in part:
Gannon also stated via email: “North Carolina’s State and County Boards of Elections comply with all federal and state laws pertaining to list maintenance activities. We are preparing a thorough response to the Judicial Watch letter and will release it when it is complete.”
It appears that neither side is going to back down, so North Carolina may be treated to yet another election-related lawsuit ahead of the 2020 general election.
For your further reading pleasure, here are list maintenance procedures from the NC Board of Election.