Voters eligible to cast ballots are already being swept up in a grassroots effort to purge the nation’s registration rolls ahead of the 2024 presidential election, a CBS News investigation has found.
Fueled by doubts about the 2020 election, an army of conservative activists is poring over state voter lists, looking for registration errors that can be used to file what are known as voter challenges — questioning the registrations of thousands of Americans.
The undertaking, which includes the involvement of a lawyer tied to former President Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, tends to affect minority or younger voters who may be statistically more likely to vote Democrat, according to local election officials.
“It’s young voters, it’s people of color, and it’s people that are unhoused,” said Karli Swift, chair of the election board in DeKalb County, Georgia. “Those are generally the types of people that end up in voter challenges.”
One of those hit with challenges was James McWhorter, who received a letter at the barbershop he manages in the middle of October from DeKalb County informing him that someone had challenged his voter status. The challenger, a woman named Gail Lee, argued McWhorter improperly registered to vote at a commercial address and snapped photos of his barbershop, which is located inside an Atlanta-area Kroger supermarket, as evidence.
“I didn’t know Gail Lee from a can of paint,” McWhorter told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett.
Since the two had never met, there was no way for Lee to know that McWhorter had registered to vote at the shop’s address in 2008 because he was homeless at the time. A veteran of the Gulf War, he was still trying to get back on his feet after years of struggling with PTSD and alcoholism.
“My friends, my family never knew I was displaced, never knew I was homeless,” McWhorter said, adding he would return to the barbershop after it closed and sleep in his chair and wash his clothes at a24-hour laundromat nearby.
Nevertheless, the letter made it clear that McWhorter’s voter registration could be canceled if he didn’t take action…
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen Monday said the state would launch its own database of registered voters after withdrawing from a national one earlier this year.
Allen unveiled the Alabama Voter Integrity Database (AVID) to manage the state’s registered voter rolls, completing a goal to replace the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) system that the Secretary of State withdrew from at the beginning of the year.
“This is going to be an Alabama-based system,” Allen said. “This is not going to be something that we send to some private nonprofit, third party vendor, out of state. It is going to be something that we control, that we have access to at all times.”
Observers said Monday that Allen seemed to simply be creating a newer version of the system he left behind.
“The thing that struck me was that he is trying to recreate the ERIC system,” said Kathy Jones, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, referring to Allen. “That system is owned and operated by the secretaries of states of the member states. It is not a third-party nonprofit that he mentioned.”
Florida made it tougher to vote and engage in civic activities following baseless allegations from former President Donald Trump that his re-election in 2020 was stolen from him. In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (SB 7050) to increase fines for violations by voter registration organizations, reduce the time to submit voter registration forms from 14 to 10 days, and bar non-citizens from handling voter registration applications.
The bill prevents groups from retaining personal information about people who sign up to vote and requires them to provide receipts to individuals who register. Third party voter registration groups and nonprofits such as as the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida chapter of the NAACP filed two federal lawsuits against the state regarding certain parts of the bill. Last week, a federal judge temporarily blocked DeSantis’ administration from enforcing parts of the legislation.
Texas is leaving the Electronic Registration Information Center, becoming the latest — and largest — Republican-led state to leave the bipartisan voting list maintenance program.
The move by the nation’s second-most-populous state, while widely expected for months, is still another serious break for the organization. Just five Republican-leaning states are still members.
The shrinking bipartisan nature of an organization designed to smooth operations of elections is yet another sign of how the normally nonpartisan nature of elections administration is under fresh pressure from conspiracy theories and partisan attacks.
North Carolina lawmakers are considering not only a spate of new election restrictions but also a major overhaul of state and county-level election boards, alarming advocates who say some of the proposals could grind the state’s democratic apparatus to a halt.
The changes would restrict same-day registration and mail-in voting. They would also give new powers to the state Legislature, where Republican lawmakers have been emboldened by a new veto-proof majority, along with a new Republican majority on the state Supreme Court.
The three bills, which could be considered in House committee hearings as early as this week, come as North Carolina begins to institute new voter ID rules. The state Supreme Court had previously declared the photo ID requirements unconstitutional, but the new Republican majority reversed that decision earlier this year, allowing the law to be enacted.
From the Idaho Capital Sun: “A new Idaho voter registration law that took effect July 1 requires voters to prove their identity and residency when registering to vote, no matter how they register…. But a Boise-based youth voter advocacy group called Babe Vote announced less than a week after the new law took effect that it was suspending voter registration efforts and filed an injunction in Ada County District Court seeking to halt enforcement of the new law.”
On March 15, 2022, an email appeared in the inbox of the election director of Forsyth County, Georgia, with the subject line “Challenge of Elector’s Eligibility.” A spreadsheet attached to the email identified 13 people allegedly registered to vote at P.O. boxes in Forsyth County, a wealthy Republican suburb north of Atlanta. Georgians are supposed to register at residential addresses, except in special circumstances. “Please consider this my request that a hearing be held to determine these voters’ eligibility to vote,” wrote the challenger, Frank Schneider. …
The March 2022 voter challenges were the first of many from Schneider: As the year progressed, he submitted seven more batches of challenges, each one larger than the one previous, growing from 507 voters in April to nearly 15,800 in October, for a total of over 31,500 challenges.
Vetting Georgia’s voter rolls was once largely the domain of nonpartisan elections officials. But after the 2020 election, a change in the law enabled Schneider and other activists to take on a greater role…. Georgia … is unusual in explicitly allowing citizens unlimited challenges against anyone in their county.
The report concludes that “the state’s restrictive voter registration rules significantly harm youth efforts to participate in the political process.”
Over the past year and a half, eight Republican-led states quit a nonpartisan program designed to keep voter rolls accurate and up to date.
Top Republican election officials in those states publicly argued the program was mismanaged. The conspiracy theorists who cheered them on falsely insisted it was a front for liberals to take control of elections.
But experts say the program, known as the Electronic Registration Information Center, was among the best nationwide tool states had to catch people trying to vote twice in the same election. Now, those Republican-led states who left — and other states who lost access to their data — are scrambling to police so-called “double voters” ahead of the presidential election in 2024.
In recent months, elections officials in Ohio — one of the states that led the flight from ERIC — and elsewhere have been quietly convening leaders from dozens of states to talk about ways they can still work together to try to catch double-voters.
“The whole goal is to have something in place, state-to-state, prior to the 2024 election,” Amanda Grandjean, Ohio’s assistant secretary of state and senior adviser, told POLITICO, the first time she has spoken publicly about the efforts.
The scramble by states to fill a security gap left open by exiting ERIC comes at a critical time. Elections officials face ongoing scrutiny about the accuracy of voter rolls after extensive — and untrue — accusations of widespread fraud in the past two election cycles. The 2024 elections are getting closer.
Grandjean said 27 states have expressed interest in the effort, with varying degrees of commitment.
But actually getting it off the ground is a different matter.
New from Zachary Roth.
Miles Parks for NPR.
Vote.org is not a political party or political organization with members whose rights may be adversely affected by a state’s voting laws. Instead, Vote.org is a non-profit organization that helps people register to vote, among other things. When election laws change–and change how Vote.org does business–does it have the ability to sue?
Yes, says a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia. No, says the Fifth Circuit. They get there by different routes. Their reasoning (opinions lightly revised):Continue reading Does Vote.org have Article III standing to challenge state election laws?