Think tank questions same-day voter registration

Posted October 31, 2012

— A conservative think tank says its research shows North Carolina's same-day registration process for early voting creates an opening for election mischief. 

Susan Myrick, a researcher with the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, says a study she conducted garnered hundreds of pieces of undeliverable mail from addresses that voters gave when they voted early in the May primary. 

"This is one more problem what was put upon a system that didn't need any more," said Myrick, who advocates for the elimination of same-day registration. 

Her report has drawn criticism from the state Board of Elections and groups that lobbied for the state to implement the practice in advance of the 2008 elections. 

"We think they're using fuzzy math," said Gary Bartlett, director of the state Board of Elections. 

The normal voter registration deadline in North Carolina is 25 days before an election. Voters who do not make that deadline cannot vote on Election Day.

But voters are allowed to register to vote, or change their voter registration, during the early voting period. This year's early voting ends Saturday. 

For her study, Myrick looked at five counties: Buncombe, Durham, New Hanover, Pasquotank and Wake. Civitas sent surveys to voters who had registered in those counties between March 1 and April 13, the last day to register to vote in the May primary. Of the surveys mailed to those 17,531 voters, 531 were returned as "undeliverable" by the post office. That's a 3 percent error rate. For the same five counties, the think tank sent surveys to 5,019 voters who registered through same-day registration during early voting. Of those, 365 letters came back as undeliverable, about 7.3 percent. 

Myrick contends that a higher rate of undeliverable mail suggests a higher lieklihood of shenanigans in the same-day registration population. She said when Civitas looked as some of the addresses more closely, it appeared that some were empty lots, business addresses and other locations that should not be used as voter addresses. Asked whether Civitas looked at the partisan breakdown of the returned voters, Myrick said they did but did not record that information. 

"We believe that same-day registration will lead to questionable election results," Myrick said. If voters cast their ballots but then cannot be found, she said, it calls into question whether they are legitimate voters. 

Bartlett and his staff question Myrick's methodology and say her findings are out of step with the state's study of this issue.

State board data shows that of 21,986 people who same-day registered in the 2010 General Election, only 153 – or less than 1 percent – failed to complete the registration process. Similar to the Civitas study, local boards of elections send mailings to those who register to vote. 

Following this May's primary, elections officials say, of the 24,769 voters who registered during the one-stop process across the state, only 218 failed to complete the mail-in registration process. Again, that's an error rate of below 1 percent.

Bartlett acknowledged that cases involving empty lots and other sorts of incorrect addresses were troubling. And he said that there were some cases in which a person who was ultimately unable to register to vote had their vote counted. 

However, he and others say the vast majority of cases are people who legitimately vote and then move from their addresses. For example, college students who register at the last minute and then go home for the summer, graduate or move to new campus housing. Others are forced to move from place to place due to economic hardship. 

"It's our job to administer the law the best we can," Bartlett said. "It has been a good law, but it has warts, too." 

Myrick argues those warts argue for North Carolina to end same-day registration. The harm caused by possible illegitimate registrations, she said, is outweighed by any good it might do by allowing voters to register late in the election cycle.

Local election directors who spoke with state officials following the 2008 election also expressed concerns the process was flawed, she said.  

"No one supports or wants to see something that allows a lot of voter fraud," said Bob Phillips, director of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, a nonprofit group that pushed for the same-day registration law. "But this (Civitas study) is picking at something with faulty research and drawing a misguided conclusion."

He pointed out that those who registered during the one-stop process had to provide proof of residency, such as driver's license, bank statement, lease or power bill.

Bob Hall, with Democracy North Carolina, another backer of the law, said it allowed people to take part in an election who might tune out the campaigns early on.

"It empowers people to participate in the most fundamental right of a citizen: to have your voice counted," he said. 

Myrick said that she didn't believe anyone would be disenfranchised. 

"I don't think you would sacrifice anybody's vote. They would just have to register by the deadline like everyone else," she said. 


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • miseem Nov 1, 2012

    So far, the only major voter scandal in this election cycle has come from the right. Of course, we will always have those "My wife's cousin's friend was working at the polls and he said he saw" well documented cases of fraud.

  • tshan Nov 1, 2012

    I waited for about an hour yesterday to vote and talked with voters from both parties. My wife, and a few others on both sides were shocked when as they were taking out their id's I told them they didn't need them. They all thought they had to show id. I could have easily said I was my neighbor, just need to say my name and address, and voted.

    People steal everyday. People are killed everday. Identity theft happens a lot. I really believe that people will stoop to voting more than once as someone else just to get their person elected. And I'm sure it happens on both sides. There aren't many cases caught sure, but look how easy it is to do which makes it almost impossible to catch.

    I'm not afraid of democracy. Why are libs so afraid of making sure the voting process is legit? Once LEGAL voter, one vote. Make the id free to people that can't afford it, which I think it already is. If you can make the effort to get to the polls, you can make the effort once to get your id.

  • ScientiaVinces Nov 1, 2012

    Why are "conservatives" so afraid of democracy?

  • 27228 Nov 1, 2012

    What's news? A conservative group looking for a problem thinks that they may possibly have found one. SSDD

  • baldchip Nov 1, 2012

    Photo IDs are fair to cash a check, begin SSS, board a plane,
    get near or in the DNC Convention, but not to vote?? Rediculous!!

    Same day registration and voting opens up pandora's box for fraud. However, for the left, anything goes as long as the cause is safe. Cheatin-is fine as long as no one gets caught. Misappropriation of funds-fine as long as no one gets caught.
    On and on...

    Same day registration is a prescription for cheating. Just another liberal trick!!


  • nufsaid Nov 1, 2012

    "I question anything a conservative think tank has to say about elections. They are more interested in advancing their agenda than ensuring the right to vote.

    I support your right to have an opinion. Just as I support those that question the comments and actions of Gary Bartlett.

  • wanderer Nov 1, 2012

    The undeliverable issue must have crossed party lines. Coming from a Conservative think tank, if it were only letters coming back from people registering Democrat that information would have been added. Instead, they looked at how they registered but didn't record it.

  • BE Nov 1, 2012

    I question anything a conservative think tank has to say about elections. They are more interested in advancing their agenda than ensuring the right to vote.

  • tayled Nov 1, 2012

    I would not only take exception to a candidate or party holding a voter registration drive and then shuttling these new voters to early voting sites, which has been done in the past, but I question the entire early voting thing to begin with. There's simply no excuse as to why you cannot make it to your precinct to vote sometime on election day or vote absentee.

  • Krimson Nov 1, 2012

    Few thoughts from this Lib:

    1) We are already issued Voter IDs by the State when our Registration Application is approved: its called the Voter Card. I'll assume every county in NC issues Registered Voters this simple card.
    2) In order to receive a Voter Card (thereby having your Registration approved), you must prove to BOE that you are legal. BOE also vets the applications to verify information presented is true. It is already a crime to lie on the application.
    3) As to the point of Registering and then immediately voting at early voting sites, I would assume BOE holds those ballots aside until it can be determined if such voter is indeed legal.
    4) I actually support Voter ID of some kind, but understand that the cost to the Tax-Payer via additional training and equipment may not offset the statistical likelihood of voting fraud. In other words, we need to figure out how much $$$ is too much $$$ fighting a crime that is so rare...