FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 9, 2021
CONTACT: Sailor Jones, (919) 260-5906, firstname.lastname@example.org
DURHAM (June 9, 2021) — North Carolina-based voting rights group Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) responded today to Senate Bill 724, one of a slate of Republican voting-related changes being fast-tracked in the North Carolina legislature. The bill not only invests in NC’s enjoined voter ID law, but also alters the state’s popular online voter registration (OVR) process.
“On Monday, June 7, 2021, Senate Bill 724 was filed in the North Carolina Senate and is already set for hearing on Wednesday, June 9. This rushed bill, among other things, makes significant and problematic changes to how online voter registration (OVR) is offered in this state, without, as we understand it, consulting the State Board of Elections, which would be primarily tasked with making these changes. As a primary matter, making substantive changes to how voting is conducted in this state without consulting the responsible agency is bad policymaking at best, and at worst, will cause voter disenfranchisement and violations of federal law.”– Allison Riggs, SCSJ’s Co-Director and Chief Counsel of Voting Rights
In responding to the bill, SCSJ raised the following areas of concern:
S.B. 724 Section 2 Does Not Expand Online Voter Registration
Section 2 of S.B. 724 requires the State Board of Elections (SBE) to establish and maintain its own online voter registration website, separate and apart from the existing DMV site, but nevertheless use DMV data to process the applications. To register online using the new SBE site, an applicant must possess a current, valid NC driver’s license. SBE is then required to verify all registrant information submitted on its site for possible duplicate registration using DMV data. If the information is verified and no duplicate registration is found, SBE must then obtain the applicant’s electronic signature from the DMV. However, if not verified or if the application is incomplete, SBE must deny the application and notify the registrant. The applicant may be able to apply again using the site, the DMV site, or any other method of registration.
Creation of an SBE OVR site is problematic for many reasons, particularly with the bill as written:
1. An SBE OVR system would be redundant and ineffective.
a. Currently, an applicant who goes to the SBE website for a voter registration application is directed to the DMV site. This ensures that all online applications goes through one system, with one set of criteria.
b. If SBE creates a new site, applicants may be confused where to apply. Or, they may apply using both, which leads to duplicative registrations. Having two different systems may yield different results because of the differing criteria.
c. SB 722 OVR criteria is more restrictive. The bill provides that only applicants with current, valid licenses may register using the new SBE site. The DMV site, however, allows those with inactive licenses to apply as well.
2. SBE does not actually have access to the necessary DMV data
a. SBE will need real time access to DMV data to verify the information and to confirm that there are no duplicate registrations. Currently, all online applications go through the DMV first, which is more efficient because verification occurs at a singular agency, rather than having to retrieve information from a second agency.
3. This redundant structure invites errors and potential application denials.
a. If the SBE is not able to obtain all the data needed to verify the applications, or if there are any errors during verification, applications will be denied. This could result in a significant number of denied voter registrations.
b. There are already illustrative incidents about the lack of data transfer between the DMV and the SBE regarding race/ethnicity data. Creating a second opportunity for transfer failure is inefficient and unnecessary. Instead, putting resources into fixing the DMV-SBE transfer should be a higher priority.
c. The bill provides that applicants may try to register to vote again if denied, but that will lead to confusion about where and how to apply, and also why their application was denied.
4. SBE does not have the funding or technology necessary to create its own OVR system.
a. The SBE was not consulted in drafting of this bill.
b. The SBE does not have the necessary funding or technology needed to create a truly secure OVR website that interfaces with DMV data.
c. The estimated costs for creation of the site has not been calculated and the SBE has not been allocated the additional funds to complete this task. Nor was any money allocated to addressing the issue between transferring data between SBE and DMV.
5. There will be potential NVRA non-compliance at the DMV.
a. Section 5(c)(2) of the NVRA seeks information to prevent duplicate voter registrations. With two separate OVR sites, there is not only a duplication of voter registration efforts, but there is the potential for duplicate registrations if a person does not know if they are registered (and they cannot confirm their registration) and their registration information is not transferred to the DMV (or vice versa). That person may end up registering on both sites because they want to ensure that they are registered.
b. Creating two separate sites puts the DMV at a disadvantage because now resources are funneled away from DMV NVRA compliance, in favor of a state-based OVR system. By choosing to divert resources to a state-based OVR system, rather than investing in fixing the existing DMV OVR system which allows North Carolina to comply with federal law, this increases NC’s potential liability for violating the NVRA.
i. NC is currently under a settlement agreement regarding the DMV’s compliance with the NVRA, so there should be incentive to fix the DMV systems which are not perfect.
c. There is the possibility that people may think that they registered to vote on the SBE portal, but for whatever reason they failed to register (or are denied due to the more restrictive criteria or by error in verifying information), and therefore decline to register at the DMV, resulting in lack of registration.
SCSJ is also encouraging the public to share its concerns about SB724 with their lawmakers at scsj.salsalabs.org/protectovr.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.