One of the duties of the State Board of Elections is to develop necessary policies and procedures to guide county boards of elections in their daily business. The most recent example of this activity is the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The NVRA is a federal Act that was passed in May of 1993 and makes dramatic changes in the way states conduct voter registration. The purposes of the NVRA are:
To establish procedures which will increase the registration of eligible citizens in elections for Federal office,
To make it possible for Federal, State, and Local governments to enhance the participation of eligible citizens as voters in elections for Federal office,
To protect the integrity of the political process, and
To assure an accurate and current voter registration roll.
To meet these objectives, the NVRA expands opportunities for eligible citizens to become registered and to update their registration records. Implementation of the NVRA required the State to amend its voter registration laws. The NC General Assembly did so in 1994, ratifying House Bill 1776. House Bill 1776 became Article 7A, Chapter 163 of the North Carolina General Statutes, and brings our State voter registration laws into compliance with the NVRA.
The major provisions of the NVRA require all states covered by the Act to set up voter registration programs at select government agencies. You may be familiar with the term “Motor Voter” -- which refers to the NVRA’s mandate that voter registration services be offered at drivers license examination offices. However, the NVRA affected our State in other ways as well. Under the agency-based voter registration program, other agencies have been designated by Congress and the General Assembly to offer voter registration to the public: agencies primarily engaged in serving persons with disabilities, public assistance offices, and armed forces recruitment stations. Additionally, voter registration can now be conducted through the mail.
Agencies designated as voter registration agencies include:
The provisions of the NVRA are in addition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and do not authorize conduct that is prohibited by the Act. If State or local officials violate or fail to implement the NVRA, the US Attorney General or private parties, including individual citizens, may sue for declaratory or injunctive relief in Federal court.
Voter registration services at select agencies must be offered in conjunction with an application for services or assistance, re-certification, renewals or changes of address. This is an intake process that solely involves the execution of voter registration documents and providing requested assistance. This is an important point of distinction. Agency personnel do not determine the eligibility of any person to register to vote. They merely offer the client the opportunity to complete the voter registration application and then forward the completed forms to the County Board of Elections for review.
Certain actions of agency registration personnel are prohibited. Political activity conducted outside of the agency office will not be limited; however, the law specifically prohibits agency voter registration personnel from seeking to influence the applicant’s selection of a political party affiliation. This includes the display of any political preference or party allegiance.
If citizens who are qualified to vote cannot register to vote, or if registering to vote is a difficult task for them, then the meaning of democracy is lost. The NVRA’s power lies in its commitment to make voter registration more accessible; and in the willingness of the states to cooperate with its mandates. For every new voter that is registered, another eligible citizen is entrusted with the decision as to whether he or she will take part in the free elections which decide today’s leaders and our children’s future. How true that the strength of empowerment is priceless in a democracy.
For more information about the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 visit the U.S. Department of Justice website.