State elections officials seek tighter security
Posted April 2, 2014 2:06 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2014 7:21 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — State elections officials said Wednesday that they're investigating hundreds of cases of voters who appear to have voted in two states and several dozen who appear to have voted after their deaths.
State lawmakers last year mandated the State Board of Elections to enter into an "Interstate Crosscheck" – a compact of 28 states that agreed to check their voter registration records against those of other states. The program is run by a Kansas consortium, checking 101 million voter records. The largest states – CA, FL, NY, and TX – are not part of the consortium.
State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach delivered the report Wednesday to the legislative Elections Oversight committee.
Strach said North Carolina's check found 765 registered North Carolina voters who appear to match registered voters in other states on their first names, last names, dates of birth and the final four digits of their Social Security numbers. Those voters appear to have voted in North Carolina in 2012 and also voted in another state in 2012.
"Now we have to look individually at each one," Strach said. "Could there have been data error?"
The crosscheck also found 35,570 voters in North Carolina who voted in 2012 whose first names, last names and dates of birth match those of voters who voted in other states in 2012, but whose Social Security numbers were not matched.
"A lot of states don't provide last four SSN, or they don't have that information," Strach explained.
Additionally, the analysis found 155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and final four Social Security number digits match voters registered in other states but who most recently registered or voted elsewhere.
That last group, Strach said, was most likely voters who moved out of state without notifying their local boards of elections. "Those may be voters we need to remove because they've left North Carolina."
Strach also said a "10-year death audit" found 13,416 deceased voters who had not been removed from voter rolls as of October 2013. Eighty-one of those individuals, she said, died before an election in which they are recorded as having voted.
Strach cautioned that about 30 of those 81 voters appear to have legally cast their votes early via absentee ballot and then died before Election Day.
However, she said, "There are between 40 and 50 [voters] who had died at a time that that's not possible."
"We're in the process of looking at each of these to see," Strach said. "That means either a poll or precinct worker made a mistake and marked the wrong person, or someone voted for them. That's something we can't determine until we look into each case."
Strach's agency is asking legislators for a few key changes they say will improve voter security.
First, the elections board is asking for permission to compile a secure database of digital photographs and electronic signatures that would be available to county elections workers through the state's secure electronic poll book system.
Only 38 counties use that state system, said elections board analyst Marc Burris, while 53 counties still rely on paper election rolls. Counties would have to pay for the hardware in each precinct. But Burris says it would allow workers to check immediately for duplicate voting.
The board is proposing to use state Division of Motor Vehicles photos where possible but is also seeking permission to start a pilot program to take digital photos of voters at voting sites. Those photos would be stored securely and would allow poll workers to use biometrics or facial recognition systems to verify voters' identity.
Burris couldn't immediately say how many cases of duplicate voting are reported in the state. He said the current system, in theory, would block one person from obtaining two ballots. Where there have been cases of duplicate voting, Burris said, "It's more typical that an absentee vote is filed and an Election Day vote is filed."
"I think the big bombshell today is that you have documented voter fraud that has occurred," said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. "We have over 36,000 people who apparently voted in this state illegally and committed felonies."
"Are these coming from particular counties?" Moore asked. "Do you have their names and addresses? Is that public information?"
Strach said it is not public information. "We're treating it as a potential criminal investigation until we discern otherwise."
"Could it be voter fraud? Sure, it could be voter fraud," Strach said. "Could it be an error on the part of a precinct person choosing the wrong person's name in the first place? It could be. We're looking at each of these individual cases."
Republican committee members seized on the report as proof that voter fraud is common. Moore asked how many cases happened during early voting, but Strach didn't have that data.
"This is proof positive that voter fraud has in fact occurred." Moore said. "For years, all of us have known anecdotally of different types of voter fraud."
"We have the 'Walking Dead,' and now we've got the 'Voting Dead,'" said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg. "I guess the reason there's no proof of voter fraud is because we weren't looking for it."
Asked by Rucho to confirm that 50 dead people had voted, Strach declined.
"I do want to stress that the reason could be precinct error," she said.
Asked if her agency had sent any cases to local law enforcement, Strach said it had, but none had so far been prosecuted.
Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, pointed out that the current changes in voting laws and the requirement for voters to present photo identification at the polls will not stop anyone from voting in two states.
Moore said he believes at least 36,000 people committed voter fraud in 2012.
"I would say, if you've got a first name, a last name and a date of birth, you've got the same person. What are the odds of that?" he said, adding that the numbers would be higher if the largest states were part of the compact.
"It is just as much voter suppression if votes are being cast fraudulently or illegally in this state as vote not being cast, because it is resulting in a result that does not reflect the will of the electorate," he said.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a joint statement that the data shows the need for the voting changes that lawmakers approved last year.
“While we are alarmed to hear evidence of widespread voter error and fraud, we are encouraged to see the common-sense law passed to ensure voters are who they say they are is working,” Tillis and Berger said in the statement. “These findings should put to rest ill-informed claims that problems don’t exist and help restore the integrity of our elections process.”
Voting rights advocate Bob Phillips with Common Cause NC said he, too, is concerned about the repoirt and wants to see the cases investigated. But he said it still doesn't justify House Bill 589, the 2013 law that included voter ID and several other key changes.
"I think a lot of [lawmakers] are saying, 'Aha, this proves what we did,'" Phillips said. "But if I have an ID, how is that going to stop me from voting in North Carolina if I've already voted in Florida?"
"In my mind, it doesn't justify cutting early voting. It doesn't justify eliminating same-day voter registration. It has nothing to do with eliminating the pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. A lot of what 589 did, that is not connected to this information," Phillips said. "But I'm saying - as an advocate for good government, and an advocate for easy, accessible voting - sure, this needs to be looked at."