NCSBE Can Take Additional Steps to Ensure Election Integrity

North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell recently responded on July 26 and July 28 to outstanding questions from her June 22 appearance before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

In Brinson Bell’s responses explaining steps the NCSBE has taken to clean voter rolls, committee staff recognized opportunities for improvement even without joining an interstate group. North Carolina already has data streams that can verify a person’s identity and address. In response to questions on publicly available data, Brinson Bell said the NCSBE already provides a great deal online or through records requests and suggested a new data management system would be needed to make more data easier to access. She also provided committee staff with data to compare all voters with same-day registrations.

Improving Voter Roll Accuracy

Based on its experience in other states Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) Executive Director Shane Hamlin estimated that nearly 600,000 voter registration records could be inaccurate, Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) noted at the June hearing. Brinson Bell acknowledged this in her response while providing additional context. Two-thirds of those are people who moved to another county in North Carolina and another group were in-state duplicates. The two groups of problem registrations “would involve corrections to existing voter records, rather than removals of ineligible voters,” Brinson Bell wrote in her July 26 letter.

North Carolinians who die in another state could be another 16,000 problem registrations. Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) had asked about using Social Security Administration death records to identify those people. Brinson Bell explained in her letter that getting access to the data directly from Social Security is cumbersome, but the North Carolina Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC) already receives that information and can make it, and other data sources such as public assistance program enrollment, available to the NCSBE with less hassle. Committee staff are working to connect the two agencies.

Staff asked three additional questions tied to recommendations from the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Although county boards of elections provide voter rolls to courts for jury duty pools, Brinson Bell wrote, “We are not aware of an example” of a court notifying a local board of election when a potential juror is excused for citizenship or residency reasons “ever occurring.” A provision in the recently passed election reform bill (SB747) would require weekly notification and removal of individuals from voter lists for this reason. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six states permit such sharing. Under California law, “county elections official may contract with a consumer credit reporting agency or its licensees to obtain use of change-of-address data.” Finally, county boards could add a property record search against Register of Deeds and tax records in addition to current matches against the North Carolina Geodetic Survey.

Improving Data Access

Responding to concerns from Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), Brinson Bell shared more information on the steps the NCSBE has taken to improve access to and understanding of voter history and voter records data such as updates to the website, presentation of voter registration statistics, voter turnout, election maps, individual voter registration data, voter history data, and frequently asked questions. With 7.3 million registered voters, some of the data files are necessarily large. Committee staff hope to work with NCSBE staff to make more understandable data available and reduce the need for unique public records requests.

Same-day Registration Trends

Brinson Bell provided same-day registration data from the past four statewide elections (2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022). Committee staff compared race, party, and county of same-day registrations against the total electorate in each election. The percentage of voters using same-day registration doubles in presidential years even as total number of voters also increases. Racial composition is relatively consistent over time: black and “undesignated” race voters are a larger share of same-day registration than of total voters, white voters are a much smaller share. Democrats are a consistently larger share of same-day registrants than of total voters, Republicans are a consistently smaller share. Unaffiliateds vary from year to year. Watauga and Jackson counties stood out for the larger share of same-day registrations, which seem to be due to their university populations. Watauga County is home to Boone and Appalachian State University, and Jackson County is home to Cullowhee and Western Carolina University. Consistent differences in same-day registrations suggest a need to expedite the address verification process for those voters.

Brinson Bell’s follow-up responses highlighted opportunities to rely more on data sources the state and local governments have available, including Social Security death records, government program enrollment, jury duty exemptions for citizenship or residence, and property tax records. The NCSBE could also contract with a consumer credit reporting agency or other commercial data warehouse for address confirmation. Many of these actions can be done with existing resources, such as GDAC. Committee staff expect the State Board and its staff to identify any hurdles and provide plans to overcome them, including any legislative fixes.