Due to redistricting confusion, ballots in question for voters at Warren Wilson College
November 5, 2012
ASHVILLE, NC — Last night, attorneys from the national voting rights organization Project Vote sent a letter to election officials in Buncombe County, as well as to the State Board of Elections, expressing concern over the possible disenfranchisement of more than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff members who reside at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.
Residents of the small liberal arts college have always registered to vote using the address of the campus’s central mail facility at 701 Warren Wilson Road. However, a redistricting plan passed by the North Carolina legislature in 2011 drew a line straight down the middle of the campus, putting dorms on the north side in one state legislative district and dorms on the south side in another.
Unfortunately, no one told the people who live there until this past week, after early voting in North Carolina had already begun.
On Wednesday, October 31, Buncombe Co. election officials informed Warren Wilson administrators that registrations at the 701 Warren Wilson Road address were no longer valid. The officials instructed residents by letter that they could update their registrations, and cast a regular ballot, if they went to the correct precinct on Election Day. Those who went to the wrong precinct, or who wanted to vote early, would need to vote a provisional ballot, which would only be counted if and when their actual residence had been determined. The Board told school officials that correct ballots would be mailed to anyone who had already voted early, once their proper residences were confirmed.
“The Board of Elections erred seriously in not informing Warren Wilson College sooner about the redistricting and now registered voters are, through no fault of their own, being effectively removed from the rolls,” says Catherine Flanagan, director of Election Administration at Project Vote. “The National Voter Registration Act protects registered voters from wrongful removal from the polls, and forcing college residents to vote a provisional ballot—which is much less likely to be counted—is tantamount to removal.”
According to the United States Election Assistance Commission, between 25% and 49% of provisional ballots cast in North Carolina during the 2010 federal election were not counted.
In the letter sent last night, Project Vote requests that the board commit to submitting every ballot received from a registered Warren Wilson resident as a regular ballot. For those who already voted early—who may have done so because they were going to be out of town—Project Vote requests that the board commit to counting those ballots in every race (like the presidential election) for which the state district lines are irrelevant, even if the voter does not submit a corrected ballot in time.
“With the election now less than 24 hours away, we are eager to work with state and county election officials to avoid legal action and ensure that no Warren Wilson voter is disenfranchised because of this last-minute error,” says Flanagan. “These voters have done nothing wrong, and they must not lose their right to cast ballots that count in this election.”
Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented voters.
For more information and interviews, please contact Sarah Massey at 202-210-6614.