Friday, June 15, 2007

Justice Dept targets NC for voting integrity

By Libby

The Justice Department civil rights division scandal has just hit home. Justice is apparently targeting the state for having what NC officials say is a "maintenance of voter rolls [that] is among the most careful and comprehensive programs in the country."

Justice and the local GOP operative, State Auditor Les Merritt, allege widespread irregulariities including "24,821 invalid driver's license numbers in the voter registration database, 380 people who appear to have voted after their dates of death and others who were under age 18 when they voted." However, neither Justice or Merritt were able to provide a single specific instance of actual voting fraud and failed to mention the reasonable explanations for the data discrepancies.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the elections board, responded Wednesday with a stinging 10-page letter declaring many of the findings invalid. He accused Merritt's office of misleading the elections board and of rejecting its help.

"(Y)our office appears to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the data that was reviewed or about the federal and State laws governing the voter registration process," Bartlett wrote in the letter, which he provided to lawmakers Thursday.

For example, Bartlett said, many of the people who appear to have voted after their dates of death voted absentee and then died prior to Election Day. At least some people under 18 who voted did so legally, Bartlett said, because state law allows 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election if they will be 18 the day of the general election.

Bartlett said the state's regular maintenance of voter rolls resulted in 725,499 names removed during a recent 19-month period. Most had been inactive, moved or died.

Merritt's office declined to provide the Observer with a copy of its findings Thursday, saying it is adjusting them based on Bartlett's objections.

"This is a typical process we do in refining our findings," said Merritt spokesman Chris Mears.

Right, only remove the false allegations after somebody notices them. Merrit's deliberate politicalization of the process was noticed after he tried to derail legislation designed to make it easier for voters to participate in the process.

Bartlett said he never received such complaints from federal officials until 2005. "Since then, he has received three." A local expert on voting issues puts his finger on why.

"We're learning that this department has a record of harassing state-level officials who take their responsibility seriously and who don't act in a partisan way to depress voter registration or reduce the voting rolls," Hall said.

I might note that although NC is considered a "red state," we have a large population of African-Americans and a Hispanic community that is growing by leaps and bounds, not to mention a deluge of Northerners who are migrating to the Raleigh-Durham triangle and bringing their liberal sensibilities with them.

Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson says the department "enforces the law without prejudice." Right. They'll disenfranchise anyone who's likely to vote Democratic.

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