@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Want to commit voter fraud? NC's top Republican tells you how

Posted October 23, 2018 2:27 p.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2018 6:45 p.m. EDT

— Lt. Gov. Dan Forest released a video last week with step-by-step instructions for "organized groups" to commit voter impersonation, a felony in North Carolina.

Forest, a Republican, is not up for election this fall – his second term runs through 2020. However, he has been a strong proponent of requiring voters to show a photo identification at the polls, and a proposal that would write voter ID into the state constitution is on the ballot.

The video, titled Voter Fraud 101, was promoted on Facebook and paid for by the NC Republican Council of State Committee, a political action committee chaired by Forest and largely funded by Greg Lindberg, a major political donor currently under federal investigation.

Although Facebook doesn't release targeting information in its online ad archive, data from ProPublica’s Facebook Political Ad Collector shows that some of those targets included North Carolinians interested in President Donald Trump.

"Committing voter fraud is easy in our state," Forest says to the camera in the two-minute video. "Just for fun, here's one way an organized group could commit voter fraud in North Carolina."

In the slickly produced animated video, Forest goes on to describe an elaborate process by which a group could scrape the names, addresses and voting status of infrequent voters before Election Day, then go to their polling places, claim to be those voters, which is a crime under state law, and cast fraudulent ballots.

"If, by chance, one of the real voters comes in after you, he or she will have to cast a provisional ballot that requires extra scrutiny and may never be counted. But your ballot? It'll be counted on election night," Forest explains. "It's that simple, and all because North Carolina doesn't require a photo voter ID."

There is no evidence or record of any such operation having been conducted anywhere in the country, said Tomas Lopez, an analyst with left-leaning voting rights group Democracy North Carolina, which opposes the voter ID amendment.

"The scheme depicted in this video is extremely elaborate and would require a really high level of organization, coordination and execution on the part of the perpetrators and a commensurate level of incompetence on the part of election officials and systems." Lopez told WRAL News in an email. "[N]ot even the incidents used to justify voting restrictions include something like this."

Kareem Crayton, interim executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which fought North Carolina's previous voter ID law in court, was more blunt in his assessment of the video.

"The scheme that he dreamt up in that clip is not something actually that is workable," Crayton said.

The data scraping would be complex – and traceable – and it would require hundreds of people willing to commit a felony and keep it a secret, he said.

"That you're an elected official and that you make an argument that is intended to undermine the election system that actually got you in office, let alone could throw you and a bunch of other people in jail for felony convictions, is unprecedented – and, to me, sad," Crayton said.

When asked by WRAL News why the video was produced, Hal Weatherman, Forest's chief of staff, didn't provide an explanation, saying only in an email, "The voter fraud outlined in the video would not be possible if NC had photo voter ID."

Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, had no comment on the legality or the ethics of a sitting politician posting a how-to video on casting fraudulent votes.

"Any individual who acts on the video’s suggestions and impersonates another voter would be committing multiple state and federal crimes that could result in punishments of up to five years in prison for each offense," Gannon said in an email. "We have no evidence of coordinated voter impersonation fraud in this or any election."

North Carolina Republican Party director Dallas Woodhouse defended the video as part of his party's educational outreach on the need for a voter photo ID amendment.

"This is simply laying out for the public what is already known by those inclined to cheat," Woodhouse told WRAL News. "Honest voters do not see a PSA explaining exactly how our system has faults and then decide to become a criminal. And the criminals already know this."

"It’s one reason we are pushing many of our traditional Election Day voters to vote early," Woodhouse added. "For their protection."

An audit of the 2016 election conducted last year by the state elections board found only two cases of voter impersonation out of millions of votes cast. In both cases, the voters cast absentee ballots on behalf of a family member. No charges were filed.

The audit found that all the other cases of suspected voter impersonation in 2016 turned out to be the result of clerical errors by elections workers.

North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard called the video "bizarre."

“It is disturbing and beneath the dignity of his office for Dan Forest to spend the final moments of the midterms sowing doubt and confusion with voters through false, misleading and potentially illegal campaign ads," Howard said. "Dan Forest should be ashamed of himself.”