It may take more than voter ID to stop ab­sen­tee fraud

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY RASHAAN AYESH

[email protected]­sob­

On the same day North Carolini­ans voted for Mark Harris to rep­re­sent the 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, they also voted for voter ID to be­come part of the state con­sti­tu­tion.

A lot has hap­pened since then. The state elec­tions board has yet to cer­tify Harris as the win­ner of the race due to al­le­ga­tions of elec­tion fraud. Mean­while, leg­is­la­tors have ap­proved a bill to im­ple­ment voter ID. And they’ve added a pro­vi­sion to re­quire photo ID for ab­sen­tee bal­lots in re­sponse to those fraud al­le­ga­tions in Harris’ race which cen­ter on those mail-in bal­lots.

But could voter ID have al­le­vi­ated the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the va­lid­ity of the ab­sen­tee bal­lots in the 9th Dis­trict?

The pro­vi­sion in the bill await­ing Gov. Roy Cooper’s sig­na­ture or veto would re­quire vot­ers to “at­tach ad­di­tional doc­u­men­ta­tion nec­es­sary to com­ply with the 2 iden­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments.” Cur­rently, ab­sen­tee bal­lot vot­ers al­ready go through a two-step ver­i­fi­ca­tion process which does not in­volve photo ID, ac­cord­ing to Gary Sims, the Wake County Board of Elec­tions di­rec­tor.

The first step “is a re­quest that will au­tho­rize us to send you a [ab­sen­tee] bal­lot, which we do ad­min­is­tra­tively,” Sims said. “You still have to pro­vide the re­quired in­for­ma­tion.”

That for­mal re­quest for an ab­sen­tee bal­lot asks for in­for­ma­tion, such as a North Carolina driver’s li­cense num­ber or the last four dig­its of a voter’s So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. This is meant to ver­ify the voter’s iden­tity. Vot­ers then fill out the bal­lot, and sign it in front of two wit­nesses or a no­tary.

A fed­eral law man­dates first-time vot­ers must send a pho­to­copy of an ID or of­fi­cial doc­u­ment dur­ing the ab­sen­tee bal­lot vot­ing process in a fed­eral elec­tion. This re­quire­ment only ap­plies to vot­ers who were not able to ver­ify their iden­tity while reg­is­ter­ing.

Af­ter a voter re­quests an ab­sen­tee bal­lot from the state board of elec­tions, they will be asked dur­ing the ver­i­fi­ca­tion process for a pho­to­copy of a photo ID or an­other doc­u­ment such as a util­ity bill.

Even though this law means there is a sys­tem in place that the state elec­tions board could use as a model, it is still too early to know if it will be im­ple­mented on a larger scale. Vot­ers could be asked to mail in a pho­to­copy of their ID ei­ther when they make a re­quest for an ab­sen­tee bal­lot or are mail­ing their bal­lot back.

North Carolina would not be the only state to re­quire photo ID for ab­sen­tee bal­lots if this bill passes.

Eight states re­quire voter ID dur­ing the ab­sen­tee bal­lot process: Alabama, Illi­nois, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, West Vir­ginia and Wis­con­sin. Lo­cal boards of elec­tions re­serve the right to re­quest a photo ID from vot­ers in Utah.

Many other states re­quire a copy of a photo ID if it is the voter’s first time vot­ing in the state.

The North Carolina bill doesn’t clar­ify whether vot­ers will have to sub­mit a copy of a photo ID when they send back their ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quest or their bal­lots.

Gerry Co­hen, for­mer spe­cial coun­sel at the Gen­eral Assem­bly, says re­quir­ing photo ID dur­ing the ab­sen­tee bal­lot process would be lo­gis­ti­cally dif­fi­cult to man­age. Some leg­is­la­tors, such as Rep. Darren Jack­son, a Wake Demo­crat, also worry the cost will be too great for some lo­cal elec­tion boards to han­dle.

“Are you sup­posed to send your driver’s li­cense? What if you don’t have a pho­to­copier?” Co­hen said. He said the process could pos­si­bly ex­clude el­derly or dis­abled vot­ers who rely on ab­sen­tee vot­ing but who may not have ac­cess to a copy ma­chine.

Co­hen says there needs to be “a so­lu­tion that isn’t worse than the prob­lem.”


North Carolina isn’t the first state to have the le­git­i­macy of their ab­sen­tee bal­lots ques­tioned. It hap­pened, for ex­am­ple, in a tight race in Dothan County, Alabama in 2013.

Amos New­some was up for re-elec­tion as a Dothan County com­mis­sioner. He nar­rowly beat his chal­lenger Lamesa Danzey by a mar­gin of 14 votes — with New­some se­cur­ing 119 of the 124 ab­sen­tee votes, ac­cord­ing to the Dothan Ea­gle.

It later sur­faced that Olivia Lee Reynolds, who worked on New­some’s cam­paign, had com­pleted peo­ple’s ab­sen­tee bal­lots in fa­vor of New­some. She was charged with elec­tion fraud, as were three other peo­ple.

Voter ID was not in place at the time. Start­ing in 2014, photo ID be­came a re­quire­ment for ab­sen­tee bal­lot vot­ers.

And dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions, the Alabama Sec­re­tary of State John Mer­rill or­dered poll watch­ers to “observer ab­sen­tee bal­lots and af­fi­davits when they are called dur­ing the count.”

Hans Von Spakovsky, a se­nior le­gal fel­low at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, au­thored a pa­per in 2008 about ab­sen­tee bal­lot fraud that oc­curred in 1994 in Alabama, which re­sulted in 11 con­vic­tions.

“More than 1,000 of the ab­sen­tee bal­lots were mailed by just five peo­ple ‘who brought in suit­cases of bal­lots to the Eutaw Post Of­fice the day of elec­tion in 1994.’ Thus, over onethird of all votes were cast with ab­sen­tee bal­lots — far above the state av­er­age,” von Spakovsky wrote.


In the af­fi­davits col­lected from ab­sen­tee bal­lot vot­ers in Bladen County, two vot­ers are claim­ing a woman came to their homes to col­lect the ab­sen­tee bal­lots. They say a woman did not seal the en­velopes or ask them to sign it. It has not been ver­i­fied if the woman who ap­proached these two vot­ers is the same per­son. This type of nar­ra­tive falls in suit with some elec­tion fraud cases sur­round­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots in the past.

Myrna Pérez, deputy di­rec­tor at the Brennan Law Cen­ter, says im­ple­ment­ing voter ID dur­ing the ab­sen­tee bal­lot process won’t rem­edy the type of prob­lem go­ing on in the 9th dis­trict.

“The prob­lem is not when some­one in good faith col­lects a lot of bal­lots and sends them. It’s when some­one in bad faith col­lects the bal­lots and is not send­ing them,” Pérez said.

In that sit­u­a­tion, Pérez says, the “ap­pro­pri­ate pol­icy re­sponse is to limit and pun­ish op­er­a­tives” who are “are try­ing to sti­fle the vote.”


With the state Se­nate’s ap­proval of the bill on Thurs­day, it now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. Ini­tially, voter ID was ex­pected to be used in the 2019 NC mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. But Democrats are raising con­cerns about us­ing the voter ID re­quire­ment — which would take ef­fect im­me­di­ately — in the event of a new elec­tion in the 9th dis­trict.

On Thurs­day, Sen. Terry Van Duyn, a Bun­combe County Demo­crat, called on Repub­li­cans to de­lay the voter ID im­ple­men­ta­tion un­til af­ter the spe­cial elec­tion — if one is called. “The pos­si­bil­ity of a new elec­tion is very real and Repub­li­cans have only com­pli­cated this is­sue,” she said. “It is un­con­scionable to place this ad­di­tional bur­den on the vot­ers and our lo­cal boards of elec­tions.”

The bill puts a March 15 dead­line on the state elec­tions board to ap­prove gov­ern­ment em­ployee and stu­dent IDs that com­ply with the law; rules for ab­sen­tee bal­lot ID would be ap­proved by July 1. May 1 is the dead­line for county elec­tions boards to start is­su­ing photo IDs to vot­ers who re­quest them.

Colin Camp­bell of the NC In­sider con­trib­uted.

JU­LIA WALL [email protected]­sob­

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