Politics & Government

Does same-day voter registration in NC increase fraud risk? Experts disagree.

Precinct workers prepare for early voting at the CPCC Facilities Services building in the March primary. The N.C. Republican Party has urged GOP-led county elections boards this year to limit the hours of early voting, warning about the higher chances of voting fraud with same-day registration
Precinct workers prepare for early voting at the CPCC Facilities Services building in the March primary. The N.C. Republican Party has urged GOP-led county elections boards this year to limit the hours of early voting, warning about the higher chances of voting fraud with same-day registration dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

The N.C. Republican Party has urged GOP-led county elections boards this year to limit the hours of early voting, warning about the higher chances of voting fraud with same-day registration.

The state party has cited data that shows people who use same-day registration are unable to be verified at a higher rate than people who use regular registration.

But defenders of same-day registration say that doesn’t amount to attempted voter fraud.

Most of the focus of the state’s 2013 voter law has been on the requirement for a photo ID, which Republicans said would prevent fraud and Democrats said would suppress minority voting. In July, a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the state’s voting law. Barring a reversal, there will be no photo ID needed in November, and same-day registration has been resurrected for early voting.

On Aug. 21, N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted, “Fraud Alert. In North Carolina Same day registration 8 TIMES more likely to be invalid after the vote has occurred and been counted.”

Earlier this month, Woodhouse emailed GOP appointees to county elections boards to “make party line changes to early voting” by limiting the number of hours and keeping polling sites closed on Sundays.

In his tweet, Woodhouse was referring to testimony by the State Board of Elections in the 2013 lawsuit filed by the NAACP, Common Cause N.C. and League of Women voters over the state’s new voting restrictions. In that lawsuit, Brian Neesby, a data analyst for the Board of Elections, said that for the 2012 general election, 2.4 percent of the same-day registrations failed the mail verification test, compared with 0.34 percent of regular registrations that were rejected.

It’s not that people are cheating. It’s a transient population.

Bob Hall of Democracy NC

But others say the higher rate of rejections doesn’t necessarily mean the registrations were fraudulent.

Bob Hall of Democracy NC, which supports same-day registration, said the higher rate of unverified registrations is likely due to people moving. He said four years ago there was a delay in some county elections offices verifying the registrations, despite a state law that says election officials must send them a verification letter by mail in two days.

“People were registering in late October, and the verification letters weren’t going out until December or January,” Hall said.

“It’s not that people are cheating,” he added. “It’s a transient population. If you recognized that 12 percent of the population moves every year, and if you wait six weeks to verify, you would get the 2 percent who are already gone.”

He said students often used same-day registration. In the 2012 election, Hall said voters under 25 were 31 percent of same-day registrants, but were only 12 percent of registered voters.

The State Board of Elections sent the Observer its analysis from the March primary this year. Of the 22,563 people who voted statewide with same-day registration, the state said 514 were later found to have been unverified.

Joshua Lawson, the board’s general counsel, said those votes were counted. He said they would not have been counted if the voters had registered under the regular process.

More than a dozen other states have same-day registration. Democrats say there have been no proven cases of voter fraud, and charge that Republicans are trying to depress participation among minorities, who often use early voting.

By being six weeks late they broke the law and the elections board’s own rules. This happens every single election! Nothing is ever done to fix it.

Francis De Luca of Civitas

In 2007, the N.C. General Assembly approved same-day registration, which only applies to the early voting period.

The early voting period this year in North Carolina begins Oct. 20. People can use same-day registration through the final day of early voting, which this year is Nov. 5 – three days before the Nov. 8 election.

Here is how it works:

A prospective voter must bring a photo ID to an early voting site. If the ID doesn’t have an address, the person must bring some paperwork with their address, such as an electric bill.

They are registered and then allowed to vote. In Mecklenburg, they vote on electronic voting machines. In some counties, they vote on paper ballots.

State law says the county elections office must send a verification card to the voter within 48 hours of them casting a ballot. If the card is returned as undeliverable, the elections office sends a second card. If that is returned, the vote is discarded.

In Mecklenburg, elections supervisor Michael Dickerson said his office can – and has – removed some votes made under same-day registrations. Some of the people can’t be located at their address. Others are felons.

The conservative think tank Civitas did its own study of same-day registration during the 2008 election. The group mailed surveys to voters who registered in the traditional method and also through same-day registration. The Raleigh group said it found twice as many undeliverable registrations that were done during early voting.

Francis De Luca of Civitas disagrees with Hall’s explanation of why there are higher rates of unverified registrants. He said the possibility that county elections offices would be late in verifying voters means the process is flawed.

“Why are (the board of elections) six weeks late?” De Luca said in an email. “By being six weeks late they broke the law and the elections board’s own rules. This happens every single election! Nothing is ever done to fix it.”

He added: “Any difference in the way people are treated between regular registration and same day registration, to me means people have unequal access to the ballot box.”

Dickerson said Mecklenburg County has always been able to send verification letters within two days after someone registers. But Dickerson said his office is at the mercy of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver a verification letter and then return it if no one lives at that address.

That can happen after the election has occurred. In theory that gives elections supervisors time to remove unverified ballots before a county’s vote tally is officially counted, which is usually 10 days after an election.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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