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The Civitas Institute, a conservative organization in Raleigh, has filed a federal lawsuit to delay a final count of ballots in this month’s election.
The suit is over same-day registrants, the more than 90,000 people who registered to vote and voted on the same day prior to the Nov. 8 general election.
Civitas says in its lawsuit that there’s not enough time between their registration and the State Board of Elections counting their ballots for the local county boards of election to verify applicants’ addresses. County boards mail new applicants notices to verify their addresses; if the notices are sent back as “undeliverable,” the voters’ registrations aren’t valid. The process takes up to 30 days if the boards act promptly, the lawsuit says.
“It’s very simple: It’s about treating all voters fairly,” Civitas president Francis De Luca said Tuesday. “The people who register the normal way get treated one way, and the people who register same-day registration need to be treated the exact same way.”
The state has had same-day registration since 2007. The legislature had sought to eliminate the option, but it was restored when a federal court overturned the state’s voter ID law earlier this year.
Voters using same-day registration to cast ballots during early voting must provide a photo identification or other proof of residency – such as a utility bill showing a current address.
But Civitas points to studies showing that a number of same-day registrations are later rejected when the mail verification process finds problems with the registration.
A State Board of Elections review of 2012 voter registrations found that 2.44 percent of voters who used same-day registration did not pass the mail verification process – but that process sometimes wasn’t finished when the voters’ ballots were counted. The failure rate was 3.2 percent during a three-month period at the beginning of 2012, when no early voting was taking place.
Bob Hall of the nonprofit Democracy North Carolina disputes the Civitas claims about the same-day registration process. “It’s just as reliable if not more reliable than the regular registration process,” he said, adding that the option was used “disproportionately” by registered Republicans during this election. “We have just gone through a court battle over same-day, and the 4th Circuit has declared that it shall be used.”
Hall noted that some mailed registrations are returned as “undeliverable” because the voter moved after Election Day. “The people that use same-day are disproportionately under 30 years old,” he said. “They are more transient than the ordinary voter.”
The Civitas lawsuit comes as Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign alleges voter fraud as he trails Democrat Roy Cooper in the vote count. Democrats are pressing McCrory to concede.
“It seems like another attempt to throw a monkey wrench in the ongoing election that doesn’t want to end,” Hall said of the lawsuit.
Civitas’ concerns could become moot because the election results might not be certified for weeks amid Republican protests of votes. The mail verification process for voters who used same-day registration will be complete by early December.
De Luca said that neither the McCrory campaign nor the N.C. Republican Party were involved in his organization’s actions. He said Civitas wanted to file the complaint two weeks ago but had difficulty getting a lawyer to take the case.
“The first attorney that was going to work with our attorney, their firm vetoed his working on it,” De Luca said. “They felt it was too political.”
One of the attorneys representing Civitas in the case is Josh Howard, the former chairman of the State Board of Elections. In addition to the federal lawsuit, Civitas has filed a complaint with the elections board.
Cooper’s campaign issued a news release Tuesday afternoon criticizing Civitas.
“Today’s lawsuit by Civitas is just the latest effort to disenfranchise legally registered voters,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said. “Instead of attacking North Carolina voters and undermining our democratic process, Gov. McCrory needs to accept his defeat and concede.”
De Luca said Civitas is looking beyond this year’s contested election. Legislative leaders have said they might revisit election laws next year.
“We think same-day registration is a bad policy,” De Luca said. “This is the about the best way we can use the courts to show that it is.”