A new lawsuit alleges North Carolina leaders are breaking a federal mandate in failing to get people registered to vote. But local officials who work under the oversight of those state agencies say they aren’t contributing to any problems. The litigation is aimed mainly at the state’s Board of Elections, Division of Motor Vehicles and Department of Health and Human Services. By law, anyone visiting a DMV office or applying for public assistance is supposed to be guided through a specific process for registering to vote, if they wish to. The federal “motor voter” law, enacted in 1993, aims to cast a wider net and keep potential voters from falling through the cracks. Critics say that Medicaid and food stamp applicants are often not even asked if they’re registered to vote, and that there is evidence of similar breaches at DMV offices across the state.
Bob Hall with Democracy North Carolina, one of the groups pursuing the action, says the state has been dragging its feet on addressing the problems since they were brought to light months ago. But the State Board of Elections contends it has taken swift action and that registration levels have actually rebounded of late.
Gaston County Elections Director Adam Ragan said his office has had no complaints about the DMV office in Gastonia, nor the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services. Authorities from those departments are responsible for collecting information about customers who would like to become voters, then sending it on to the elections office, he said. Information is also supposed to be passed along about DMV and DHHS customers who decline to register to vote, he said. “From our end, we don’t have much to do with that,” he said. “We process the voter applications that are sent to us.”