North Carolina amends same-day voter registration rules in an effort to appease judge’s concerns

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina election officials are trying to fine-tune the way the state handles same-day voter registration as Republican legislators seek to make it easier to toss out ballots and critics argue they’re making it too hard for voters to access the polls.

On Tuesday, lawyers for state election officials unveiled amended rules for verifying the addresses of people who register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. The changes came in response to a court ruling that said people need a formal way to appeal being removed from the voter rolls if election officials send them a single piece of mail that comes back as undeliverable.

The State Board of Elections sent county election offices an updated memorandum about how to conduct same-day registration and submitted it to federal court. North Carolina offers the option to simultaneously register to vote and immediately cast a ballot during a 17-day period before a primary or general election.

The state’s primaries are March 5, with the early voting period that includes same-day registration starting Feb. 15.

In October, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a wide-ranging voting law that in part told officials to remove a same-day registrant’s ballot from the count if just one mailed notice to the person’s address is returned as undeliverable. The previous law required counties to send two mailers, and disqualify ballots if both pieces of mail came back as undeliverable. A ruling in a previous lawsuit discouraged local election boards from challenging such votes before the final count.

The Democratic party and voter advocacy groups sued to block the 2023 law after the General Assembly enacted it over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder last week ruled that it was likely unconstitutional to toss out someone’s ballot without alerting them to the problem and giving the person another chance to verify their address. Schroeder cited the potential of U.S. Postal Service delays and data-entry errors by election officials that could result in a registrant being disenfranchised by mistake.

Schroeder wrote Jan. 21 that his preliminary injunction would remain in force until due process concerns are addressed. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether the updated rules would satisfy the judge.

Over 100,000 new registrants have sought same-day registration in North Carolina during each of the last two presidential general elections, and about 2,150 new same-day registration applicants failed the address verification in the November 2020 election. Slight adjustments in the same-day rules could affect this fall’s elections for president, governor and other statewide positions, which in recent cycles have been very close.

The latest guidance from state elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell, dated Monday, lays out how counties should handle same-day registration. It would apply when an address verification card is returned as undeliverable no later than two days before a county’s final ballot count.

Election workers should first examine whether addresses on the card and the registration applications match. Otherwise, applicants should be contacted by mail, email and phone to give them the opportunity to submit a new identification document or to appeal in person to the county elections board on the day of the final count.

___

This story has been updated to correct that the federal judge’s ruling was Jan. 21, not Jan. 22.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.