WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last night, a federal judge granted a request from voting rights organizations and Democratic groups to temporarily block a provision of North Carolina’s recently enacted voter suppression law, Senate Bill 747.
The now-blocked provision — known as the “undeliverable mail provision” — specifically targeted North Carolina’s same-day voters, those who register to vote the same day that they cast their ballots during the state’s early voting period.
Under the provision, same-day registrants’ voter registration applications and completed ballots could be rejected based on a single address verification notice sent via the U.S. Postal Service being returned as undeliverable. Additionally, S.B. 747’s undeliverable mail provision does not provide same-day registrants with any notice of their registrations or completed ballots being denied nor does it afford same-day voters the opportunity to contest an automatic denial at a public hearing before the county board of elections.
On the same day S.B. 747 was signed into law in October of last year, Voto Latino and the Democratic National Committee filed federal lawsuits challenging various portions of the statute under the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as provisions of federal law.
Voto Latino’s complaint underscored the highly error prone nature of S.B. 747’s address verification process in which Postal Service and poll worker errors have the potential to result in the automatic disenfranchisement of North Carolinians through no fault of their own. “[S]tudies have shown that up to 23% of all undeliverable mail is the result of USPS error rather than a faulty address. Compounding the problem, poll workers often complete registration applications for same-day registrants and may make mistakes in recording the voter’s address,” the complaint explained.
The complaint also noted that Black, Latinx and young North Carolinians are more likely to have mail returned as undeliverable due to housing insecurity, having a college campus address or living in multi-generational households.
In yesterday’s order, Judge Thomas D. Schroder — a George W. Bush appointee serving on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina — held that the “Plaintiffs are likely to show that the undeliverable mail provision, as written, is unconstitutional.”
“By failing to provide voters with notice and opportunity to be heard…before removing the votes of a cast ballot from the count, [S.B. 747] creates an unacceptable risk that eligible voters’ ballots will be erroneously removed and not counted,” the order continued.
Schroder also pointed to clear evidence demonstrating how S.B. 747’s more stringent address verification process will “impose a substantial burden on [same-day registration] voters.” According to the order, over the past four even-numbered election years, thousands of same-day registrants failed address verification — a rejection rate that could significantly increase due S.B. 747’s lack of opportunity for same-day voters to be notified of such rejections.
As a result of yesterday’s order, North Carolina must provide same-day voters who fail the address verification process with the chance to be notified and appear at a hearing before the county board of elections prior to their ballots being removed from the official count. Litigation regarding other provisions of S.B. 747 is ongoing in three separate lawsuits.
The same-day registration period for North Carolina’s 2024 primary elections begins on Feb. 15, 2024.