[Image courtesy of all-flags-world]
So I lied just a little bit yesterday about not seeing any new stories in the election roundup … while the Groundhog Day trio from Ohio, Minnesota and Florida definitely caught the eye there was a small but significant story out of North Carolina that I think is worth mentioning.
WRAL has a lengthy piece focusing on National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, or “motor voter”) compliance in North Carolina. The major theme of the article is that the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) knew more than it let on when activists complained recently about the decline in voter registrations at social service agencies. In particular,
Data collected by the State Board of Elections and made public online shows that voter registrations collected by social service agencies fell off from a high of 42,988 registrations per year in 2011 to 13,340 in 2014.
Tucked in at the end of a discussion of “what did DHHS know and when did they know it?”, however, is an indication of the role that the State Board of Elections is playing in trying to assist DHHS and county agencies with NVRA compliance:
Whether or not the dip was intentional, records obtained from the State Board of Elections show it was a topic of conversation between the two agencies.
An email dated Nov. 24, 2014, shows that Belivia Spaulding, customer services manager for the Division of Social Services, was working to help the state elections board make contact with local DSS directors.
Emails provided by the State Board of Elections also show that Spaulding, Social Services Director Wayne Black and Tracy Hicks, a DHHS business analyst, met via conference call regarding NVRA on Sept. 18, 2014, with Veronica Degraffenreid, the state board’s point person for NVRA compliance. That meeting followed up on a Degraffenreid email from earlier that month, which clearly outlined the obligations of social services agencies and asked for clarification about how a new computer system would aid in following through on those requirements.
Emails show county elections directors and social services administrators were concerned that NC FAST wouldn’t properly handle the state’s obligations with regard to federal voting rights law. These concerns appear to reach back to the end of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration in 2012 and continue into 2013 and 2014, after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory took office.
While NC FAST [DHHS’ own portal] was supposed to be able to handle the process, the State Board of Elections developed its own portal for NVRA agencies to use, apparently in response to concerns that NC FAST did not fully comport with federal law.
“This system does not change an agency’s responsibility of offering voter registration to services applicants with any new application, renewal, recertification or change of address,” Degraffenreid wrote to DSS directors in January 2013. “The online system is just an alternative, albeit cost effective, way of fulfilling your NVRA responsibilities.”
The State Board’s action is another example of the ways in which state and local election offices can come to the aid of their fellow public agencies when voting matters are in play. As responsibility for implementation of election policy (especially registration) gets more broadly distributed across a jurisdiction’s organizational chart, election offices become a source of expertise and assistance for other agencies for whom voting is not Job One.
We’re seeing something like this in California as well, where the Secretary of State’s office is likely to play a key role in resolving NVRA issues that are the target of a potential lawsuit there.
It’s a new “business focus” for election offices, and one about which professionals at all levels will need to be aware going forward. Indeed, it appears that in North Carolina, the state election office is prepared to “call for the ball” on NVRA compliance in order to ensure that it gets done properly – both as a way to fend off litigation as well as a way to better serve the state’s voters.
You will almost certainly hear more about this, what with North Carolina’s growing importance as a battleground in national elections and the recent fights over election policy.