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Local voter registration challenge draws national media attention

Delancy and John North RS

A crew from the PBS program “Frontline” (right) and local journalist John North (left) interview VIP Project Executive Director Jay DeLancy (center).

By Roger McCredie-Producers and a film crew from WGBH Boston, the production facility that turns out much of Public Broadcasting System’s programming, were in Asheville last week to cover a challenge lodged with the Buncombe County Board of Elections by the North Carolina Voter Integrity Project. The challenge demands verification of 183 “missing” voters who are carried on the rolls but cannot be located by the U.S. Postal Service.

The 183 local names were uncovered as a result of county house-to-house canvassing by members of the Asheville Tea Party and letters sent to the last known addresses of 300 “questionable” voters. The 183 names presented to the Board of Elections last Thursday were those of addressees whose letters were returned as undeliverable.

According to the Raleigh-based VIP, more than half a million such questionably registered voters are on the books statewide. They are classified as “inactive” but are allowed under Federal law to vote from their last known address for at least four years after having moved.

“In most cases these ‘inactive’ voters either moved away or died,” said Jay DeLancy of Raleigh, VIP Executive Director. “But by calling them ‘inactive’ [election officials] misunderstand the danger.

“In reality, the registration addresses are not valid and the government can’t find them. They are missing, and they should be removed before somebody steals their votes,” DeLancy said.

Each of the 183 letters marked “return to sender” was notarized and will have to be individually investigated by the county elections board. The VIP and its Tea Party volunteers referred to this initial batch as “the tip of the iecberg.”

“We started out just approaching residences that had more than seven registered voters listed as living there,” local Tea Party Chairman Jane Bilello said, “and this is what we got – 183 returns out of 300. When we dropped that number [of registered voters per address] down to five, the VIP found thousands more ‘inactive’ voters listed.”

“That means this project should continue for quite some time,” DeLancy said.

Nor, said DeLancy, is the problem limited to North Carolina. It is in fact, he said, “a national epidemic “ arising from what he called “the fraud-friendly” National Voter Registration Act of 1993. This law is often called the “Motor Voter Act” because it provides for voter registration along with driver’s license issuance or renewal. It also allows for simultaneous voter registration along with application for such federal assistance programs as food stamps, disability income and other social services.

The groundwork for NVRA was laid in the 1980’s by the husband-and-wife team of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, both college professors and liberal activists. It has been hailed by its proponents as a means of increasing voter turnout and reducing racial and income disparity among voters. Its critics, including VIP, have denounced it as being riddled with loopholes that invite identity theft and voter fraud.

Enter ‘Frontline’

North Carolina’s own recently passed voter ID law, due to take effect in 2016, has drawn national attention. The law, which requires a valid photo ID for voter registration, has been denounced by congressional progressives and civil rights groups as discriminating against minorities and the poor, and is presently being challenged in the courts.

Last August, “Frontline” devoted a segment of its show to examination of North Carolina’s law. Anchor Judy Woodruff said, “Opponents insist the real intent is to suppress turnout among Democratic constituencies, minorities, young voters and the poor. In Raleigh today, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced plans to challenge the law in federal court.” Before that could happen, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed suit against North Carolina on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since then, the NAACP has since targeted VIP, filing subpoenas to obtain VIP records “in hopes,” according to a VIP press release, “of obtaining the group’s internal communications, membership information and proprietary research.” VIP is contesting the subpoena, calling it legal harassment.

On January 3, PBS, Frontline’s network, aired an hour-long special hosted by Bill Moyers and entitled, “State of Conflict: North Carolina.” (Internal state PBS programming issues made the episode unavailable to many non-cable PBS viewers, but it was available via the main state PBS channel and online as well.) The program was billed as a documentary, but blatantly attacked North Carolina’s Republican political majority, saying it had carried the state “far to the right” and spotlighting the voter ID law in particular as an example.

Viewers from as far away as New York called Moyers’ program “one-sided” and “a hatchet job.” Even Michael Getler, writing for the PBS Ombudsman, said, “This is not your father’s documentary.

“This is not Frontline,” Getler went on to say. “ This is better described as advocacy journalism. My sense is that an independent, fair-minded viewer watching this would have no doubt that Moyers does not like what is going on in North Carolina, disagrees with all of it except the protests, and that the thrust of the program supports that view.”

Given that background and history, observers say, there seems to be little doubt about the light in which ‘Frontline’ will present its coverage of the VIP/Tea Party voter challenge when it eventually airs the segment.

Which is fine with Bilello and DeLancy. “We had our own crew there, filming what went on. It will be interesting to compare our footage with their narrative when the time comes,” Bilello said. “We were watching the watchers.”

Members of the PBS production crew who covered Friday’s events had not returned phone calls by press time.

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