Here come the told-you-so’s. Here come Republicans justifying a bad N.C. voter ID law by pointing to a new report that shows hundreds of cases of potential ballot fraud in our state. If we didn’t know better, we’d think they were downright gleeful that people may have cheated the elections process.
The source of that joy is a Wednesday report by Kim Strach, executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections. Strach’s office did a cross-check of voters in 28 states and found 765 registered voters who shared identifying information – name, date of birth, and last four digits of Social Security number – with voters in another state. Thousands more shared first and last names, plus birth dates.
Slam dunk. Voter fraud. Right?
Not exactly. The report doesn’t say why those names are on the rolls of two states. Strach told a legislative oversight committee that she doesn’t know yet. It could be that people registered to vote in a new state without telling their former state they had left. It could be that those who shared names and birth dates merely had common names. It could be that in the rush of an election, precinct workers made mistakes marking who voted.
Or it could be voter fraud. “We have to ensure this is what happened, and it wasn’t an error on someone’s part,” Strach said.
She’s right – and after that, the state needs to determine when the possible fraud occurred and how it might be stopped. Sounds obvious, but that’s not how Republicans approached the issue of voter fraud before passing their restrictive voting law last year. If they had studied the problem, they would’ve learned that voter fraud rarely occurs at the polls. It happens during voter registration and with absentee ballots (as is likely with the last week’s cases). Then lawmakers could’ve crafted a law that addressed those problems with measures such as requiring new N.C. voters to provide a former address, so that they can contact other states and get the paperwork up to date.
The reason that kind of law never arrived: Republicans were hardly interested in making it harder to commit voter fraud. They wanted to make it harder for their opponents’ supporters to vote, so lawmakers required photo IDs and eliminated voting conveniences that Democrats largely took advantage of each election.
Now they may have backed into some cases of actual fraud. Or they may not have. As Strach completes her investigation, we’ll learn if and how and when double voting happened. Then legislators can do what they didn’t do last time – pass a law that stops people from voting illegally, instead of one that suppresses the legal ballots.
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