President Barack Obama campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Greensboro, N.C., on October 11. The North Carolina NAACP filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking an immediate injunction, alleging a coordinated Republican Party effort to suppress the black vote in the state. Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI. | License Photo
DURHAM, N.C., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed suit in federal court Monday, alleging that election officials in three counties illegally canceled thousands of voter registrations. They're asking for an immediate injunction.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, contends that the purging of voter registrations in Cumberland, Moore and Beaufort counties is an effort by Republicans to suppress black votes.
"The Tar Heel state is ground zero in the intentional, surgical efforts by Republicans to suppress the voice of voters," the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a release. "The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election. We're taking this emergency step to make sure not a single voters' voice is unlawfully taken away. This is our Selma and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue."
The NAACP alleges that state and county boards of elections removed voters because of a single piece of "undeliverable mail" sent by boards of elections, even though they could indicate a change of residence.
"In many cases, voters purged by the state still reside at the addresses where they are registered to vote, or have moved within the county and remain eligible to vote there," an NAACP release said.
The NAACP says the National Voting Registration Act requires a voter to confirm a change of address in writing or fail to respond or vote in two election cycles. In addition, mass removals of registrations within 90 days of federal elections are banned.
In a statement, the North Carolina Board of Elections said voter challenges were filed by "private citizens" and not elections officials. "Our independent agency administers state and federal election laws," it said. "The statutes at issue are decades old and are common across the country and widely regarded as compatible with the National Voter Registration Act. If the plaintiffs are right, then most states are wrong."
Terri Robertson, director of the Cumberland County Board of Elections, denied there was any illegal cancellation of voter registrations.
"We're following the law," she said to The Fayetteville Observer.
She declined to specifically comment on the lawsuit.
The NAACP described the situation of James Edward Arthur Sr., a lifelong resident of Beaufort County, where 138 voters have been challenged for the Nov. 8 election. Arthur, who is African-American, registered in Beaufort County in November 2011 and has voted in at least 14 elections since then. But his registration was canceled by the Beaufort County Board of Elections based on a third-party challenge on undeliverable mass mailings.
"I did not receive notice from the state or Beaufort County that my voter registration had been challenged, or that a hearing had been set to determine whether I would remain on the state's list of eligible voters," said Arthur, who is a plaintiff in the suit. "If I knew my right to vote was in jeopardy, I would do whatever I could to protect it. I want and plan to vote in the upcoming election, but I am concerned that since my registration has been canceled I will not be able to cast a ballot or it will not be counted."
According to the NAACP, blacks comprise 25.9 percent of the Beaufort County population, but account for more than 65 percent of the challenges.
The NAACP said 3,951 registrations were challenged in Cumberland County by an individual based on returned mail from mass mailings.
A Republican in Moore County challenged 400 registrations, the NAACP says, also because of undeliverable mail.
North Carolina is considered a battleground state. In the UPI/CVoter state poll data released Monday, Hillary Clinton leads by 0.4 percentage point over Donald Trump.
Trump has said that the election will be "rigged" in the wake of federal court decisions striking down laws in several states, including North Carolina, requiring that people show state-issued IDs before being allowed to vote. Federal appellate courts have said these restrictions target the poor and minorities.