The big story today was the arrests of four people in Wake Co. for voter fraud. Three are accused of having cast double ballots in 2008 – first during early one-stop voting, and then again at their local precincts on Election Day. (Two of them deny any criminal intent.) The fourth person was arrested for double-voting in 2010.
Backers of this year’s Voter ID legislation, which was vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue – one of the few vetoes that hasn’t yet been overturned – heralded the news as proof that Perdue’s position was wrongheaded.
Whether that’s true in general depends on your views on Voter ID. But in fact, the Voter ID bill supported by Republican lawmakers this year wouldn’t have prevented the double voting.
The Voter ID bill, H351, would require voters to produce a photo ID to prove they are who they say they are – if they vote on election day. But according to what we know tonight about the charges, these four voters didn’t claim to be anyone else – they voted twice under their own names, and the system didn’t catch it.
NCGOP Chairman Robin Hayes was quick to try to score political points on the news. In a statement released shortly after the arrests were announced, Hayes said, “The reason why Republicans have fought to promote proper voter-identification laws is to prevent fraud like this from happening.”
Except, of course, that H351 wouldn’t have prevented "fraud like this" at all.
When I asked NCGOP spokesman Rob Lockwood for clarification, he responded:
"What Voter ID does is give North Carolinians the confidence in the election process that who shows up to the polls is actually who they claim to be. Right now, with examples of voter fraud like this, the public is prone to being skeptical about the integrity of our system. Voter ID clarifies any ambiguity about a person’s identity.
"There will always be those who try to get around the law, but Voter ID ensures that you are who you are you are at the poll.
"This incident allows for discussion and continued debate on the issue. This example shows that people will cheat, and that to protect the integrity of the voting process, we need to be able to confirm they are who they claim to be. Voter ID laws do just that."
But this case didn’t have anything to do with “ambiguity about a person’s identity.” It was a bookkeeping error — still serious, but not exactly identity fraud. So why politicize it? Lockwood’s response:
"The issue at hand is public confidence in the system. Voter ID Laws are a measure that ensure that people are who they claim to be at the polls. Seeing examples like this shows that people do cheat. Cheating is not acceptable, and Voter ID laws make it much more difficult for cheating to occur.
"This incident allows for the public to continue to debate and discuss this issue. I think what you will see more people realize that laws like Voter ID help protect the legitimacy of our election process.
"I’m very interested to see how Governor Perdue responds to this. Have you been able to speak with her people?"
I told him I hadn’t, since the bill she vetoed wouldn’t have stopped it. Lockwood wasn’t satisfied.
"But does she condemn 3 registered Democrats voting multiple times? That’s the crux of the entire story! She would be the likely beneficiary of those votes and may like the opportunity to condemn the action. At worst, she can make her case and disagree with us."
So I contacted Perdue’s office, They referred us to the NC Democratic Party, which hasn’t yet issued a statement on the matter.
In the meantime, let’s look at the numbers. Did the fraud benefit Perdue?
444,013 votes were cast in Wake County in the November 2008 election, according to the State Board of Elections. Of all the races in Wake County, the closest – NC House 34 (Dollar/Swanstrom) – was decided by 990 votes. The rest had far larger margins, including the governor’s race, which Perdue won by 26,788 votes in Wake Co.
To look at it another way, the three fraudulent double votes made up less than .00001 – that’s one thousandth of one percent – of Wake County election results in 2008.
No one’s vote was stolen, technically – these folks just voted early AND often, as the old joke goes. But you can certainly argue that their votes offset the legitimate votes of three other voters who made the effort to cast their ballots. And that's no joke at all.
Voter fraud IS serious at any level - that's why it's a felony. If anything, this instance illustrates the need for better data management in NC elections. Had Wake elections officials been able to keep up with the job of crossing an unprecedented number of early voters off the Election Day rolls, this would not have happened. (The fact that they’re still doing it on paper is pretty amazing in itself.)
But did the three fraudulent voters give Perdue the edge in Wake County? No. And the Voter ID bill she vetoed, whether or not you think it's a good idea, wouldn’t have caught it, either.