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article imageAmericans for Prosperity fliers confuse NC voters

By Kelly Fetty     Oct 20, 2014 in Politics
Raleigh - Deceased voters, children and at least one cat have received confusing mailers posted by the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity Foundation as part of a voter registration campaign.
Over 100,000 North Carolina residents have received voter registration forms with incorrect information, WRAL reports.
Conflicting deadlines and misinformation
The forms were mailed by the North Carolina Chapter of Americans for Prosperity Foundation(AFP) as part of a nation-wide voter registration drive. The misinformation on the forms includes two conflicting deadlines for voter registration and directing voters to return the application to the North Carolina Secretary of State's office instead of the NC State Board of Elections(NC BOE).
The mailer also incorrectly states that North Carolina's Secretary of State has an elections division which can answer questions about voter registration and that registered voters will be notified of their precinct by the county clerk.
Voter registration in North Carolina is handled by county boards of election, not the office of Secretary of State. County boards also notify registered voters of their correct precinct. No county clerk handles precinct information, the Raleigh News and Observer reports.
By September 30 the State Board of Elections office was swamped with over 2,000 calls from residents confused by the fliers according to NC BOE Public Information Officer Josh Lawson.
"Our concern is that, for every one caller, you actually have 10 people that may be just as confused and just not picking up the phone to call us. So, we're trying to get the message out," Lawson told WRAL.
NC Democratic Party files charges, calls fliers "misleading" and "intimidating"
On Semptember 29 the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a formal complaint with the NC BOE, saying the AFP fliers were an attempt "to utilize misleading, incorrect, and confusing voter registration mailers as a means of discouraging or intimidating voters in the 2014 General Election."
Using a mass mailing to misrepresent election law and intimidate voters is a Class I felony in North Carolina.
The NC BOE has launched an investigation in response to the charges, but Lawson cautions that the standard of proof is "extremely high" in such investigations.
"I don't know if [the mailers] are incompetence, or it's a crime," Casey Mann, head of the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP) told WDTV.
She said the fliers could intimidate voters.
"They're inconsistent, and in some cases they have intimidated folks because they give the feeling that they might be a bill that needs to be paid," she said.
AFP says mistakes were "not substantive"; calls complaints "partisan attacks"
In a September 26 press release posted on the North Carolina AFP website, Donald Bryson, North Carolina State Director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said, “We have identified a few minor administrative errors in our mailers and some old information in our data, and we’ll be addressing those. Any large mailing even with 99.9% accuracy is going to have a few inaccurate recipients."
An October 2 press release on the AFP defends the mailing as part of a voter registration drive and claims "far left blogs like Media Matters, Think Progress, and the Maddow Blog have launched wave after wave of attacks, attempting to discredit and vilify our efforts."
AFP mailings under fire in other states
This is not the first time a mass mailing organized by AFP has stirred controversy.
In August 2011 David Catanese of Politico reported that AFP had mailed absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin districts with instructions to return them before August 11.
The election took place on August 9.
In November 2013 the Chesterfield Observer reported some Virginia voters had received "official-looking" documents saying public records showed that they had not registered to vote. The documents also threatened to contact the voters' neighbors and tell them the voter was not registered.
A list of the neighbors AFP planned to contact was included in the mailing.
Virginia officials received numerous complaints, but said the mailings were not illegal.
In April 2014 the Charleston Gazette reported that voters in West Virginia had been sent "misleading and confusing" mailings by AFP that might make them think they could not vote in the 2014 election.
The fliers warned voters if they did not "update" their registration, they would be ineligible to vote.
As in North Carolina, confused voters contacted their local board of elections.
“One lady just got home from work and saw it in her mailbox. She was a little frantic. I told her to throw it into the garbage,” Berkeley County Chief Deputy Clerk Bonnie Woodall told the Charleston Gazette.
AFP explains errors, defends flier
In a September 29 letter to NC BOE Executive Director Kimberly Westbrook Strach, AFP Vice President and General Counsel Victor Bernson Jr. said the errors resulted from reusing a template for a similar flier sent to voters in Arkansas.
Voter registrations are submitted to the Office of the Secretary of State in Arkansas.
AFP did not believe "any of this information in any way interfered with a person's ability to register and vote using the form we sent them," Knight wrote.
The investigation is ongoing.
More about americans for prosperity, NC State Board of Elections, NC Democratic Party
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