- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Elections officials say a state audit indicates that hundreds of people on North Carolina voter rolls aren’t U.S. citizens - which would render them ineligible to vote.

The State Board of Elections said in a news release late Friday that it found 1,425 registered voters who are likely non-citizens in an analysis of data from the state Division of Motor Vehicles and the federal Department of Homeland Security.

The announcement comes less than two weeks before an Election Day that features the close race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis. The contest will help determine which party controls the Senate.

“We are working to ensure that no ballot cast by a non-citizen will count in this or any future election,” Kim Westbrook, the board’s executive director, said in a statement.

The board is preparing instructions for local elections officials to challenge ballots under a process that would give the voters a chance to prove their citizenship. The board says it’s a crime for a non-citizen to register or vote.

For absentee or early ballots, the voter would be notified by mail of a hearing after Election Day to consider the challenge, said Board of Elections spokesman Josh Lawson.

For those voting in person, an indication would be made in the precinct poll book that the person flagged in the audit may not be a citizen, Lawson said. If the person shows up to vote, elections officials at the precinct could initiate a challenge that would include a hearing that day. If the challenge is sustained, the person could still cast a provisional ballot to be considered by a court later.

“This is not us scrubbing people from the rolls without due process,” Lawson said in an interview.

Lawson said the board decided not to send letters to the people flagged in the audit because it wanted to avoid any possibility of intimidating other voters who may live in the same household.

In the future, the board expects to be able to analyze information from the databases on an ongoing basis to deal with cases of questionable citizenship one-by-one, Lawson said.

The counties with the most voters flagged in the audit are Mecklenburg with 313, Wake with 252 and Guilford with 115.

Overall, North Carolina had 6.6 million registered voters as of Saturday.

On Friday, a coalition of voting rights groups expressed concern about the audit in a letter to state elections officials. It cited laws regarding maintenance of voting rolls and urged caution when comparing voter rolls to data from the DMV and federal immigration officials.

The letter was signed by Project Vote, Demos, Fair Elections Legal Network, American Civil Liberties Union, NALEO Educational Fund, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Action NC.

“Our organizations are deeply concerned about maintaining access to the polls for all of North Carolina’s voters in keeping with the requirements of the NVRA,” the letter said, referring to the National Voter Registration Act.

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