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Editorial: Voter ‘purge’ overblown

With the Internet already churning out reams of outrageous election rumors and attacks, the last thing we need is an inflammatory assertion that large numbers of legitimate voters in North Carolina may be purged from the registration rolls.
Unfortunately, just such a claim emerged last week, but it didn’t come from wackos in the blogosphere. It came from the New York Times.
In a front-page story published last Thursday, the Times said that half a dozen “swing states,” including North Carolina, had misused a Social Security Administration database to improperly check 400,000 or so voter registrations, rather than primarily relying on state databases to verify information. Headlined “States’ actions to block voters appear illegal,” the article alleged that “tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law.” The Times said the story was based on registration data from individual states, but the article didn’t cite any statistics backing up the implication of widespread rejection of voter registrations in North Carolina.
So it’s time to launch a federal probe and bring in Jimmy Carter to monitor ballot boxes, right? Not quite. N.C. election officials and the voter watchdog group “Democracy North Carolina” both say there’s no evidence of a voter purge. While elections officials did check registrations against the Social Security database, they say it’s not only proper to do so but can help resolve questions about incomplete or confusing registrations, reducing the risk of fraud. And with 700,000 new registrations across the state (including 6,000 additions in Rowan County since 2004), it’s hardly surprising that it might be necessary to cross-check a high number of them.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, condemned the Times story in strong terms. “It is particularly reprehensible because it can make North Carolinians worry that they won’t be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming election; in other words, it has the same effect as a devious rumor aimed at disenfranchising voters.” His group has been one of the state’s staunchest proponents of reforms to make voter registration and voting more convenient and transparent. Their goal is to get more citizens involved in the process. You can bet that if there were a whiff of real registration improprieties, they’d be leading the charge for an investigation.
With an unprecedented surge in voter registration, some confusion and misinformation ó along with human error ó are probably inevitable. But that’s a far cry from a systemic breakdown, which appears to be what the Times believes has occurred. Fortunately, any worried voters can verify their registration information through the local elections board (130 W. Innes St.; 704-216-8140). Voters also can find information about registration procedures on the board’s Web site (linked from www.co.rowan.nc.us), including “one-stop” voting, which begins Thursday and offers another opportunity for unregistered voters to sign up. Elections officials have a responsibility to help legitimate voters sign up, while guarding against election fraud. It sounds like they’re doing their job.

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