Report: 500 ineligible voters cast ballots in North Carolina
Posted April 21
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina elections officials found that about 500 ineligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 general election – not enough to change the outcome of any race, according to an audit released Friday.
The State Board of Elections report said the 508 cases – the vast majority active felons – represented a small fraction of the 4.8 million ballots cast. The report didn't include any evidence of coordinated fraud, and many of the voters claimed to be confused about their eligibility.
The audit's findings contradict Republican claims that voter fraud runs rampant in North Carolina.
"That's 508 ineligible votes, so that's something that is never going to be acceptable," the board's executive director Kim Strach said in an interview. "But the perspective is the number of people that we had vote in this election was unprecedented, and it's a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction."
The audit comes amid scrutiny of voting practices in North Carolina and around the country. The U.S. Supreme Court met Friday to determine whether to hear arguments on the state's 2013 law that imposed a photo ID requirement on voters, among other changes to elections regulations. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the law last summer, saying it was aimed at reducing participation by minority voters.
President Donald Trump recently claimed without evidence that millions of immigrants voted illegally nationwide. The North Carolina audit confirmed 41 votes by non-citizens.
The report said the board expects to refer all 441 cases of active felons voting to local prosecutors who will decide whether to pursue charges. Under North Carolina law, convicted felons must complete probation or parole before they have the right to vote again.
"We are dismayed but not surprised by this report confirming unlawful voting during the 2016 elections," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement. "This report confirms instances of illegal voting by convicted felons, illegal immigrants and people voting under other names, including dead voters. These people should be investigated and criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"Voter fraud is a serious crime and should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, all too often, the NCGOP has used inflated fears of voter fraud to justify their attempts to curtail the fundamental right of North Carolinians to have their voices heard at the ballot box," North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement.
Statewide elections software will be updated this summer to improve electronic checks on felony status at the time of registration, and the board is also working to increase data sharing among counties. The state is also revising voter registration forms to require applicants to check boxes verifying that they are citizens and not active felons.
The state didn't have comparable figures for ineligible voters in the 2012 election because the board didn't do the same kind of study that year, spokesman Pat Gannon said.
"We know that our democracy works best when more people participate. Unfortunately, the rules that make some people ineligible aren't always clear to the public," Allison Riggs, senior attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement. "We need to find better ways to inform people that they are ineligible to vote while finding ways to get more eligible voters engaged and participating in our democracy."
The cases were spread around the state. Guilford County, which surrounds Greensboro, had the most at 63. In the Raleigh area, Wake County had 36, while neighboring Durham County had 34.
The report cited 24 substantiated cases of people illegally voting multiple times in the election.
Two other violations involved people completing an absentee ballot for a relative who died weeks before Election Day. Both people, whose names were redacted, said they picked Republicans.
One told a Board of Elections investigator in an email that the person's mother gave the following instructions for her absentee ballot the day before she died: "She said, 'OK and if anything happens you have my power of attorney and you be sure to vote for Donald Trump for me'."
Voting practices in North Carolina were questioned by Republican activists during the close governor's race that was decided by just over 10,000 votes. Democrat Roy Cooper defeated Republican Pat McCrory's re-election bid in that contest. Hundreds of votes were challenged in post-election protests in 37 counties, but most of the challenges were dismissed or derailed by a lack of evidence.