The Slatest

Justice Department Will Send Election Monitors to North Carolina Counties That Purged Voters

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during early voting at the Forsyth County Government Center on Oct. 28 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The United States Department of Justice escalated its efforts to protect voting rights in North Carolina on Wednesday, informing four North Carolina counties—including Cumberland County—that it will send election monitors to observe the polls on Election Day.

The Cumberland County director of elections told the Fayetteville Observer she didn’t know why the federal observers were coming. But as TalkingPointsMemo’s Tierney Sneed noted, the answer is fairly obvious: Cumberland is at the epicenter of a voting rights crisis that has resulted in the purge of nearly 6,700 voters from the roll, most of them minorities. In Cumberland alone, about 5,600 people had their voting rights nullified over the past two years. The problem is a state law that allows any person to revoke any other person’s right to vote by gathering mail that was returned as undeliverable, then challenging the voter registration of residents at those addresses. If those voters do not appear at a county board of elections or return a notarized form, they are removed from the voter rolls, often without their knowledge.

Republican activists in North Carolina purged thousands of voters using this method until the NAACP stepped in with a lawsuit on Monday pointing out that the purges were illegal under federal law. The Justice Department supported the NAACP’s position, and a federal judge has called the purges “insane” Jim Crow–style voter suppression. She will likely soon rule that the purges are indeed unlawful.

But North Carolina has made many other attempts to restrict voting rights. In July, a federal appeals court held that the Legislature had targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” by passing an omnibus bill that made it more difficult to vote throughout the state. The court blocked the law from taking effect—but Republican-controlled county election boards have continued to implement its most stringent measures. Reuters reported on Thursday that Republican election board chairmen colluded extensively to slash early voting, angrily ostracizing one chairman who agreed to open a Sunday voting site where black voters could cast ballots after church. The election boards encouraged each other to follow the “party line” and curtail early voting as extensively as possible.

The Justice Department, it seems, has concluded that state officials can no longer be trusted to protect North Carolinians’ voting rights. At this point, that’s not politics. It’s just a fact.

Read more Slate coverage of the election.