The North Carolina NAACP filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that some county election boards have illegally removed thousands of names from voter rolls – a moved the organization says is disproportionately affecting African Americans.
In Beaufort County, for example, black voters account for 91 of the 138 canceled registrations (or over 65 percent), even though black people are only 25.9 percent of that county’s population.
The Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has asked the court to halt the removals and to restore names already deleted.
“The Tar Heel state is ground zero in the intentional, surgical efforts by Republicans to suppress the voice of voters,” Barber said in a statement Monday. “The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election. We’re taking this emergency step to make sure not a single voters’ voice is unlawfully taken away. This is our Selma and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue.”
Thousands of registered voters have been removed from voter rolls in Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland counties because a mailing to the voters’ addresses was returned as undeliverable.
Under the National Voting Rights Act, states may cancel registrations only if a voter provides written notice of a change in address or if a voter does not respond to a notice for two election cycles and fails to vote for two federal election cycles. The act also bars states from removing voters from the rolls 90 days or less before a federal election.
In the NAACP’s lawsuit, lawyers argued that many of the people whose names were removed still live at their listed address or that they moved to other addresses in the same counties, which would make them eligible to vote.
In addition to the names removed in Beaufort County, at least 3,951 registrations were canceled in Cumberland County, and around 400 were canceled in Moore County.
The cancellations come as North Carolina has again emerged a battleground state in a tight presidential race.
In 2008, presidential nominee Barack Obama won North Carolina by a margin of just 0.32 percent of the vote – or 14,177 votes out of 4.2 million ballots statewide. Obama lost the state in 2012 by a wider, but still narrow, margin.
The NAACP has alleged that the state Republican Party, under the guise of combating voter fraud, is intentionally targeting African Americans in their voter roll purges.
“The voter purges have a long history of being racially-motivated and terribly inaccurate, said Penda Hair, an attorney for the NAACP. “It’s a timeworn GOP strategy to suppress the black vote that is being recycled in the run-up to Election Day.”