It’s election season in North Carolina. Across our state some 500 cities and towns are holding local elections in the coming weeks with 1000 public offices up for grabs. Additionally, there are 20 school districts electing school boards, eight bond referenda, five county wide tax referenda and two municipal incorporation referenda all on local ballots.
So many elections, so much voter fraud – right? Well legislative leaders in Raleigh would have us believe that’s the case. After all, they’ve spent a huge amount of time and energy this year pushing an array of “election law reforms” with such titles “restore confidence in elections,” and “restore confidence in government.”
You may remember their claims: North Carolina was supposedly drowning in “voter fraud” – dead people showing up on the voter rolls, bus loads of non-citizens being hauled to the polls, and college students voting multiple times.
They told us we desperately needed new laws that would require every voter to present a photo ID before receiving a ballot, end the ability to register and vote at the same time and reduce the early voting period window by a week.
But now it’s election time in North Carolina. The voter registration deadline ended Friday, September 16th. Early voting began September 22nd for the October 11 primary election. And all these supposedly essential new election laws are still pending in the North Carolina General Assembly
To quote the husband of former U.S. North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole, “Where’s the outrage?” Where is the public outcry to warn every single locality holding an election this fall about the probability of election fraud?
There is none. Because there is simply no evidence that large-scale voter fraud exists in North Carolina.
But what about the polls that show broad support for voter ID? Surely that means something.
More likely it means that in today’s ID encumbered world, most people are indifferent to having to show identification before voting. That certainly doesn’t mean they believe it’s necessary.
Even the recent high-profile arrests in Wake County of four people accused of voting twice proved one thing, the current system worked in catching people who allegedly tried to break the law. And a voter ID requirement would not have stopped such behavior.
No, the real issue regarding North Carolina elections isn’t voter fraud; it’s the damage these restrictive election law proposals will cause.
With North Carolina’s record four-million plus voter turnout in 2008, you could perhaps fill a school classroom with the number of “voter fraud impersonation” cases found. Ah, “but what about what about the fraud no one knows about?” say the restriction opponents.
Huh? Somehow that’s just not compelling – especially when a report by the State Board of Elections and Department of Motor Vehicles found that more than 400,000 North Carolina voters lack a driver’s license and could be disenfranchised by a voter ID law. Of course, it just coincidence that these voters happen to fit into demographics more likely to vote Democratic rather than Republican.
Nor is the restriction logic compelling when it comes to repealing the law that allow citizens to register and vote at the same time – same day voter registration. That law enabled more than a quarter million North Carolinians to vote in the 2008 election. No widespread fraud was ever reported. Rather, this law is often cited as a factor in allowing our state to jump from 42nd in voter turnout in 2004 to 15th in 2008.
Finally, the majority party argued that slicing a week off the early voting period was necessary because fewer people used it and it would save money by not having polling places open and underutilized.
The only problem here is that in 2008, more than 700,000 North Carolinians voted in the first week of early voting out of a total of 4.3 million votes cast.
That means 16% of the voters voted in week one. Cram those 700,000 voters into the final two weeks and you have a recipe for either longer lines at the polls or the expense of providing more polling places and voting machines to accommodate the volume.
Not surprisingly, more Democratic voters used same day voter registration and voted early in week one.
So three quarters of a year after they were first introduced at the General Assembly, these restrictive elections law proposals are still lingering. When lawmakers return to Raleigh for yet another special session on November 7th, count on seeing a major push to pass these proposals into law.
And it will all happen in a session that starts the day before an election – an election, ironically, in which all of the manufactured fears about voter fraud seem to have vanished without a trace.
Bob Phillips is the Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina.