Just weeks before early voting began in North Carolina, Grace Bell Hardison, a 100-year-old African-American woman, was informed that her voter-registration status was being challenged. If she didn’t appear at a county Board of Elections meeting or return a notarized form, she would be removed from the voting rolls.
Hardison has lived in Belhaven, North Carolina, her entire life and voted regularly for the last 24 years, including in North Carolina’s presidential primary in March. “The first thing out of her mouth was ‘I can’t vote,’” her nephew Greg Sattherwaite said after she received the letter. “She loves to vote. She will not miss election time.”
Hardison’s registration was challenged by Shane Hubers, a Belhaven Republican, after a mailing done last year by a candidate for mayor. Mail that was returned as undeliverable in 2015 became the basis for the challenge list.
But the mailings included many incorrect addresses. “My mail comes to the post office,” Hardison told WNCT TV, which brought attention to her plight in an October 18 broadcast. “I don’t have no mail come to the house. Ever since I’ve been here, my mail has been coming to the post office.”
The challenge list compiled by Republicans also overwhelmingly targeted black and Democratic voters. “Of the 138 challenged, 92 of them were black and registered Democrats. 28 voters were unaffiliated, 17 were Republicans, and 1 was Libertarian,” reported WNCT.
Hardison’s challenge was withdrawn after a local outcry, but 14 voters have been purged so far in recent weeks in Beaufort County, which previously had to approve its voting changes with the federal government under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of discrimination.
The North Carolina NAACP says the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act, which “prohibits the mass removal of voters from the rolls within the 90 days prior to the election.”
“These purges have a long history of being racial and inaccurate,” says Penda Hair, a lawyer for the North Carolina NAACP.
In a letter to the state Board of Elections, the North Carolina NAACP pointed out that Hardison’s challenge was not an isolated case:
Since October 4, 2016, four individuals have submitted forms challenging 139 registered voters in Beaufort County. While several of these challenges have been withdrawn or resolved by the Beaufort County Board of Elections, 103 challenges are still pending and have been scheduled for hearings on October 24 and 29. Over 60% of the challenged voters are African American. The challenge list includes 59 active voters, including 19 individuals who have voted in the last year.