North Carolina Legislators Justify Voter Suppression With An Inconclusive Report

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) with wife CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GERRY BROOME
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) with wife CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GERRY BROOME

At a meeting of the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committees of the North Carolina state legislature, representatives of Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) State Board of Elections presented a report Wednesday identifying suspected cases of dead people voting and individuals voting in two states in 2012. Despite the board’s explanation that it is still investigating to determine whether these cases were actually voter fraud or something as innocent as poll-worker errors, Senate President Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) immediately lauded the findings as “evidence of widespread voter error and fraud” which should “put to rest ill-informed claims that problems don’t exist and help restore the integrity of our elections process.”

The report claimed that, using data provided by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s error-riddled multi-state voter database, North Carolina found 765 voters from the November 2012 elections whose first and last names, dates of birth, and last four Social Security number digits exactly matched those of someone who voted in another state’s same election. It also claimed 35,750 November 2012 voters with first and last names and dates of birth matching those of someone who voted in the 2012 general elections. Finally, it found that — over a ten year period — 81 people were recorded as voting after the reported date of their deaths, and the board of elections’ director noted it had learned that about 30 of those had properly cast early votes prior to their deaths. The board refused to release the names of the voters in question, deeming them potentially a matter for criminal investigations.

While the same legislative leaders who pushed through the worst voter suppression law in the nation last year were quick to use these allegations as incontrovertible evidence of widespread fraud, in truth they amount to no such thing. More than 4.5 million votes were cast in North Carolina in the 2012 general elections. Even if all of the 765 of the suspected double-voters with matching Social Security number digits did indeed vote illegally, this would represent less than 0.017 percent of the votes cast. Indeed, even the 35,750 suspected possible double-voters represented less than four-fifths of one percent of the votes cast.

But there is substantial reason to doubt the accuracy of the matches. For years, North Carolina used a default date of birth of 01/01/1900 for voters whose date of birth could not be ascertained — Joshua Lawson, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections, confirmed to ThinkProgress that one of the 35,750 voters had the same name as an Arkansas voter who was listed with that default date in both states. And, of course, sometimes multiple people with the same first and last name are born on the same date. A quick ThinkProgress public records search found both a John M. Smith in Mississippi and a John J. Smith in South Carolina were born on May 15, 1979. Since the database does not compare middle initials, North Carolina would likely flag these John Smiths as one possible double-voter. Indeed two John D. Smiths were apparently born on August 14, 1974 in opposite parts of Illinois.

Other voter suppression advocates have made similar claims of widespread voter fraud — and ultimately proved little. Last year, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) spent tens of thousands of dollars investigating more than 1,200 cases of suspected non-citizen voting and ended up finding just 16 cases for prosecution. And out of 17 cases of voter fraud alleged by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) in Boulder, zero proved to be actually guilty.

Moreover, the state’s 2013 strict photo ID law (which goes into effect in 2016) would do little to combat this problem. A voter with a valid photo identification in North Carolina could theoretically vote in a second state. And it will have zero effect on absentee voters (unless they were required to mail a photograph of themselves with each ballot), who are not required to show identification.

Joshua Lawson, spokesman for North Carolina Board of Elections told ThinkProgress that this report is merely an update on cases that they are examining. “We are not jumping to conclusions here,” he explained, “This may constitute evidence of voter fraud, voter error, poll worker error, or data problems.”