Politics & Government

NC election officials identify hundreds of cases of potential voter fraud

North Carolina elections officials told state lawmakers Wednesday that they have identified hundreds, and potentially thousands, of voters who may have cast ballots in two states in the 2012 general election.

Republican legislators on an elections oversight committee quickly reacted, calling the number of possible voter fraud cases “shocking,” “outrageous” and “proof positive” that fraud is occurring in North Carolina elections. They called on elections officials to investigate all possible fraud and refer potential criminal cases for prosecution. Double voting is a felony.

“That is outrageous. That is criminal. That is wrong, and it shouldn’t be allowed to go any further without substantial investigations from our local district attorneys who are the ones charged with enforcing these laws,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican.

Others urged caution until more information about the numbers comes to light.

The numbers of potential voter fraud cases revealed Wednesday were gleaned from a cross-checking of voter records among 28 states. It was the first time North Carolina participated in the cross-check process, which was required under sweeping new election laws passed last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Specifically, the check found 765 voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and last four digits of their Social Security numbers matched exactly with a voter registered in another state and who voted in both states in 2012. The results also identified 35,750 voters with matching names and dates of birth who voted in North Carolina and another state that year.

Accurate voting rolls needed

Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said her office is investigating the results of the cross-check and knows the identities of the potential offenders. Where there’s evidence that a crime was committed, it will be referred to prosecutors, she said. “We have to ensure that is what happened, and it wasn’t an error on someone’s part,” Strach said.

Strach said the cases could be voter fraud or mistakes made at polling places by precinct officials who attributed votes to the wrong people. Many voters remain on voter rolls after they move to other states, die or otherwise stop voting, and Strach said that increases the potential for mistakes. She stressed the importance of accurate voter rolls. “Even if it’s not voter fraud, a precinct official shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose this person and attribute a vote to them,” Strach said.

Bob Hall of the liberal watchdog group Democracy North Carolina said the public shouldn’t jump to conclusions until more details about the numbers are known. Hall said election investigators have repeatedly found poll worker errors and other explanations in cases that first appeared to be dead people voting or residents of other states casting ballots in North Carolina.

“There may be cases of fraud, but the true scale and conspiracy involved need to be examined more closely before those with political agendas claim they’ve proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hall said.

He added that duplicate names don’t automatically signal fraud. “I know there is more than one Bob Hall with my birth date who lives among the 28 states researched,” he said. “For all we know, there may be 35,000 legitimate name and birthday matches.”

Death audit

Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican and co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee, suggested that the evidence of voter fraud is strong – at least among the 765 voters.

“I am very concerned that it would certainly appear to a logical person or reasonable person looking at it that if the person has the exact same name, exact same birthdate and the last four Social Security number, they are almost certainly the same person,” he said. “But again, in this country, of course, you’re not guilty until proven that way.”

Strach also told lawmakers that a recent “10-year death audit” identified more than 13,400 dead people on voter rolls in October – they have since been removed – and that in about 50 instances, votes were attributed to dead people. The board is investigating to determine whether those cases were precinct mistakes or people fraudulently voting under the names of dead people, she said. Strach stressed that those cases could stem from errors made by precincts, caused by deceased former voters remaining on voter rolls.

“We have a vulnerability with our voter rolls when we have people on there that should not be on there,” she said.

Republicans seized the opportunity to claim that the new information was proof that last year’s legislation requiring voters to present identification before voting was the right decision. The requirement begins in 2016.

Claude Pope, N.C. Republican Party chairman, said the potential fraud “represents a significant threat” to election integrity and applauded General Assembly Republicans for passing the voter ID law and “working to protect the integrity of the ballot box.”

Lawmakers also discussed whether the names of voters who appeared to vote twice should be considered public records. Strach said they weren’t because they are part of a criminal investigation. But lawmakers said they wanted the information to be public and suggested they would draft legislation if necessary.

“I’ve always found the best way to expose corruption is to bring daylight to it,” said Rep. Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican.

Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. www.ncinsider.com

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