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North Carolina GOP’s new argument against early voting: People could die before Election Day

CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton
CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton

The North Carolina Republican Party has spent years trying to cut the early voting days available in their state — after ordering studies that found voters of color disproportionately cast their ballots early. Even though they lost in federal court and are mostly losing at the county level, the leaders of the state GOP have a new argument: early voting will allow dead people to influence the election in the crucial swing state.

“We have a situation here where you have to be alive on Election Day. If you vote early, you still have to be alive,” the state GOP’s executive director Dallas Woodhouse told local Fox reporters. “In a very close race you could literally have dead people voting.”

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Woodhouse is not correct.

While state law does require that voters be alive on Election Day for their votes to be counted, general counsel Josh Lawson with the North Carolina Board of Elections explained to ThinkProgress that there is a system in place to prevent voting from the grave.

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“All early voting is done on retrievable ballots,” he said. “If a person dies, the county board of elections is notified by the Social Security Administration or the Registrar of Deeds. They have a pretty good system for tracking deaths. When we become aware of it, we remove that ballot.”

Lawson emphasized that absentee voting by mail, which starts even earlier than the state’s 17 days of early voting, carries an even greater risk, as those who use it tend to be elderly. Yet the state GOP has not raised the alarm about dead voters in regard to absentee voting.

“It’s a problem that’s not unique to early voting, and if it does happen, we have a system in place to solve it,” Lawson said.

A similar pattern exists with the state GOP’s assertion — in court and in interviews — that early voting opens up the potential for fraud. Though absentee ballot fraud is far more common than nearly non-existent in-person voter fraud, the state GOP did nothing to tighten security around that process.

One possible explanation, said a federal judge, is that absentee voting is “disproportionately used by whites,” who are more likely to vote Republican.

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Instead, North Carolina Republicans pushed through a law in 2013 eliminating same-day voter registration, cutting a full week of early voting, barring voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ending straight-ticket voting, and scrapping a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day. They also implemented one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws, which excluded student IDs.

The party did this after receiving data that showed voters of color depending heavily on these voting methods and being much more likely to lack a photo ID.

Though a federal court blocked most of these changes from going forward, 23 individual North Carolina counties attempted to cut early voting as much as possible. Many counties particularly targeted Sunday voting for elimination, despite an outcry from black churches that conduct “Souls to the Polls” events.

On Friday, the state Board of Elections reviewed these cuts, and allowed seven of them to go forward. While 22 counties will have at least one Sunday of early voting this November, three counties that provided the option in 2012 were allowed to cut it. Several more counties will have fewer total early voting hours than they did in 2012. Civil rights groups in the state are now contemplating further lawsuits.