Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:12 am

Phil Berger and Thom Tillis think they’ve found themselves some voter fraud. Fine. Let’s see if they’re right.

Fred sent me this link (thank you, sir), which purports to claim “widespread” voter fraud in North Carolina during the 2012 general election. That link in turn links to a news release issued jointly on Wednesday by Phil Berger, the state Senate GOP leader and father of one of the Republicans trying to succeed Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District race, and Thom Tillis, the state House speaker and one of the Republicans seeking Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat this year. They write:

[We have learned of] more alarming evidence of voter error and fraud discovered by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Initial findings from the Board presented to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee today show:

  • 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.
  • 35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.
  • 155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.

These findings only take into account data from the 28 states who participated in the 2014 Interstate Crosscheck, leaving out potential voter error and fraud in the 22 states that do not participate in the consortium.

My first reaction, which I admit is kind of geeky and inside-baseballish, is: Show your work, guys. Post the board’s findings online even if it’s in hard-to-search .pdf format. (As of now, the State Board of Elections itself hasn’t done it.) Otherwise, you’re asking me to trust a couple of demonstrably untrustworthy pols, although I’m gonna  set that point aside and examine this argument as if it were being made by someone with no obvious political interest one way or the other.

That said, the massive gap between the number reported in point 1 (with SocSec numbers) and the number reported in point 2 (no SSNs) leaves an awful lot of room for speculation and even more for  mismatched records. Cops have access to info that I didn’t have as a reporter, but when I was doing investigative stuff, particularly on people with very common names, I always tried to get an SSN. That’s the gold standard of unique identifiers.

All point 3 says — allowing for the elision between being registered and casting a ballot, which is actually enormous; I wonder why? — is, “and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.” That’s a big-ass loophole, considering that “voter activity” can be as simple as changing a phone number and that N.C. counties, last I checked (which I admit was years ago),  purge their voters rolls typically only once every four years — immediately after a presidential election.

But, OK, let’s put this in the light most favorable to the authors: Even with all my caveats, no fewer than 765 voters appear to have voted in both N.C. and another state in the 2012 general election, per elections data. Voter fraud is a felony, and if that report is true, all 765 should go to prison. I’d be happy to be the person to slam the door on ’em.

Problem is, it won’t be true, because — and this is a national shame and embarrassment, but a topic for another time — voter-registration data is some of the dirtiest mass public info out there. (The reason is that it attempts to gather a large amount of basic information about a lot of people, and in a society as dynamic and mobile as ours, that pool of data is changing in small but measurable ways thousands of times a day, on average.) Now, our friends Berger and Tillis claim to have attempted to “clean up” voter rolls, but they have done so in ways that give advantages to likely Republican voters while creating barriers for the young, the very old, racial and ethnic minorities, women, convicted felons and other likely Democratic voters. But that’s also an issue for another day, as is the Republicans’ reluctance to look into voter fraud in absentee balloting, where most of the real voter fraud takes place, because absentee voters are more likely to vote Republican.)

But don’t take my word for it that the 765 alleged cases aren’t real. Examining 765 records, one at a time, to determine whether or not the registrant committed a crime would take a while, but not that long. So I encourage — nay, challenge — the State Board of Elections to refer the case to the SBI and get it done. And assuming that happens, I think you’re going to find that many, and probably most, of those 765 are paperwork errors of some kind. A person was recorded as having voted in one state or the other — or at all — when he/she in fact did not vote. Whatever. Because that’s what almost always happens. Because the data is always that dirty.

That’s what I think will happen. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Pro-voter ID types hop on preliminary numbers like this because they look like proof of serious undermining of the very bedrock of democracy, the vote. Unfortunately, when it gets down to proving actual voter fraud, those numbers fold like a cheap card table into something a lot less impressive, interesting or dangerous, thereby undermining their rationale for voter ID as well as their rationale for other limits on voting rights alluded to above.

The bottom line here is that 765 cases is a manageable number to check into. So let’s check. Let’s have the State Board of Elections turn these cases over to the SBI for investigation. Let’s see what we learn. I’m eager to find out.

Heck, I might even be more eager than Phil Berger and Thom Tillis.

UPDATE, 4/3: Commenter George Barnett below wisely adds, “Keep in mind too that even if this does turn out to be true voter IDs would not have prevented it.” No, they wouldn’t have.


  1. I’d say you’re definitely more eager to find out if those 765 people really voted in two states than Mr. Berger and Mr. Tillis and I will also be very surprised if that turns out to be accurate. Keep in mind too that even if this does turn out to be true voter IDs would not have prevented it.

    Comment by George Barnett — Thursday, April 3, 2014 9:25 am @ 9:25 am

  2. And even if everything Berger and Tillis claim is true, it doesn’t justify their other voter-access restrictions such as those affecting early voting and college students.

    Comment by Andrew Brod — Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:48 am @ 10:48 am

  3. Reverend William Barber Responds to Voter Fraud Findings

    “In lieu of the findings of voter fraud and error by the State Board of Elections, we contacted Reverend William Barber for comments.

    We asked Barber, “You have steadfastly stated that voter fraud has never been proven and you have based your actions for fighting Voter ID on this misnomer. But as it has now been proven, what do you say in regards to the matter?”

    Barber’s response verbatim, “Our objection has been to voter suppression and the false claim of voter fraud as a bases for voter id ending same day registration early voting etc and our position remains the same”

    We then asked, “With all due respect, voter fraud has been proven, so how can you object to the point proven?”

    Again, his comment verbatim, “we respectfully disagree on both your conclusion and remedy”

    We asked if he is denying that voter fraud has been determined but have not received a response.”

    Sounds familiar

    I was getting worried that this choir wasn’t going to invoke the typical Lib talking points and strategy of turning the discussion around by claiming some Republican threat to children, women, disabled, the elderly, blah blah blah….. Wait that was last week

    Libs are so predictable…then again, they are all following the same guide book:

    I have seen this movie before

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Thursday, April 3, 2014 7:34 pm @ 7:34 pm

  4. Barber made a lousy argument, but he’s not wrong. The questioner’s premise is flawed, as I and commenter George Barnett explained in this post. We haven’t found “proof of voter fraud,” we have found indications of possible voter fraud that need to be investigated. Moreover, as noted above, voter ID would not have prevented fraud of this type — you need to either acknowledge that fact or prove that it’s not fact, and good luck with the latter. Finally, the additional voting restrictions enacted by Berger/Tillis have nothing to do with voter fraud, would not prevent voter fraud, and are intended simply and solely to make it harder for likely Democratic voters to vote. If Berger adn Tillis really were worried about voter fraud, they’d look at absentee balloting, where most real voter fraud occurs.

    I say again: SBOE needs to turn, at a minimum, those 765 cases of matching names and 4-digit SSNs over to the SBI for investigation and possible charges. Funny how Berger and Tillis haven’t said that.

    Comment by Lex — Friday, April 4, 2014 9:21 am @ 9:21 am

  5. So you want prosecutions. As with National Drug Policy there should be a three pronged approach to voter fraud: Education, Enforcement and Prevention. The stool is practically legless at the moment without more added muscle.

    Now, could you kindly please not destroy any of the evidence?

    “Every North Carolina voter signs an Authorization to Vote or ATV form before they were handed a ballot,” said Jay DeLancy, Executive Director of VIP-NC, “but unless those forms are subpoenaed, state record keeping laws will allow election officials to destroy this evidence in a few short months.”
    According to Standard 8, Table 13 of Record Retention and Disposition Schedule for the County Board of Elections (linked here), the ATV form used in any Federal election is retained for 22 months, while local and municipal election forms are only retained for two months, making fraud investigations for local races even more challenging.

    “Unless the Legislature acts quickly to change state record-keeping law, a great deal of evidence that could help prove organized election fraud during the 2012 election will be destroyed very soon,” he said.

    VIP-NC has asked Legislators to change the record keeping law and require the ATVs to be scanned and permanently stored in each voter’s record, as is the current law for each voter’s registration form.

    “Unless a Prosecutor somehow can obtain a signed confession from someone suspected of vote fraud,” he said, “those signed ATVs are the strongest piece of evidence a Prosecutor could ever have. Without it, there’s no case.”

    According to DeLancy, District Attorneys rarely prosecute individuals referred to them for vote fraud. In 2013, the group earned national media coverage after providing the evidence that resulted in the State Board Elections making criminal referrals against five double voters from 2012 election.
    No District Attorneys have prosecuted the cases, but the group used the news story to motivate Legislators to join the multi-state consortium (called “Interstate Crosscheck”) which resulted in yesterday’s announcement of massive vote fraud in North Carolina.
    “One of the convenient excuses that Prosecutors have for ignoring vote fraud involves this quiet little evidence destruction policy,” DeLancy said. “Now that we’ve uncovered it, we hope Legislators will adopt a long-term retention policy.”
    Lex wrote: ” I say again: SBOE needs to turn, at a minimum, those 765 cases of matching names and 4-digit SSNs over to the SBI for investigation and possible charges. Funny how Berger and Tillis haven’t said that.”

    The SBI is under control of the Attorney General. As far back as memory takes me ( 1960 ) that office has been held by Democrats. The incumbent AG has even publicly flirted with the idea of not defending challenges to Amenment One and the Voter ID because he personally oposeses them. Thus I wouldn’t expect a partisan like him to show any spirit whatsoever for pursuing the current evidence . I assume Berger and Tillis are fully cognizant of this reality.

    Of the above trinity I dare say that prevention is the smartest course.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, April 4, 2014 7:38 pm @ 7:38 pm

  6. Well, Fred, the problem with prevention here is that neither voter ID nor most of the other measures enacted WILL ACTUALLY PREVENT VOTER FRAUD. Moreover, let’s say the SBI investigates and comes up with evidence that any/many/most/all of those 765 cases are fraudulent. The AG couldn’t just kill all those cases (or even one of them) if they were legit. Prosecution would be in the hands of the local DA who is himself/herself elected and who is him/herself a Republican in many of the state’s prosecutorial districts. As you well know. So, really, you’re making excuses for Berger and Tillis before we’ve even found out whether their info is accurate. Why might THAT be?

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, April 5, 2014 5:14 pm @ 5:14 pm

  7. Oh. Gee. !! You and the other “Lifelong Republicans ” ( a term nominated for the Urban dictionary ) are pathetic. And how do these cases get to the local DA. They don’t and wind up in the Roy Cooper round file. Duh.

    About those 765 voters: Voter ID would help

    “Critics of North Carolina’s new voter identification requirement have spent the past couple of days pooh-poohing a report from the N.C. State Board of Elections that showed 765 cases in which people with identical names, birthdates, and the last four digits of a Social Security Number cast ballots in the 2012 election in North Carolina and in one other state.

    Reform supporters point to the 765 cases as highly suggestive of voter fraud. Opponents answer, “Well, voter ID wouldn’t do anything to stop double-voting.”
    That misses the point. A voter ID requirement would help prevent one type of fraud that’s entirely consistent with the figures cited in the State Board of Elections report. This is the fraud in which a person knows a voter’s name and address, knows that the voter no longer lives at that address, and casts a ballot in that voter’s name without fear that the voter will show up to create problems.

    Imagine this scenario: A young, motivated campaign worker from outside North Carolina spends the 2008 election season working in the critical battleground state of North Carolina (or even the 2010 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina). She registers to vote in this state, whether intending to stay in North Carolina or not after the election. At some point after her campaign work, she moves back to her home state or moves along to some other state (or the District of Columbia if her campaign work has helped her land a federal government job). If she’s not been purged from the North Carolina voter rolls, anyone who knew her name and home address from the 2008 or 2010 campaign would be able to vote in her name in 2012 — knowing that there’s no chance that she’ll be casting a vote herself in North Carolina.

    Without a voter ID requirement, it’s unlikely a poll worker would catch the fraud unless the worker somehow knew the campaign worker during her brief stay in the Tar Heel state. With a voter ID requirement, anyone who wanted to commit this type of fraud would have to go out of her way to get forged identification to go along with the transplanted voter’s name and address. The fraud still could take place, but the voter ID would serve as a deterrent.

    I have no idea whether this type of fraud applies to any of the 765 cases documented by the State Board of Elections. I would not be surprised. It’s also entirely possible that some of these cases may involve people voting illegally in other states in the name of voters who now live and vote legally here.
    This is exactly the type of activity that is consistent with the mind-sets of win-at-all-costs political operatives looking for a cheap, easy way to boost their candidates. Voter ID would raise the cost of engaging in this type of campaign subterfuge.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, April 6, 2014 1:01 am @ 1:01 am

  8. Inasmuch as the original document implied that the issue was people voting in two different places, not one person impersonating another, I didn’t miss the issue at all.

    That said, while it is true that voter ID MIGHT prevent voter-impersonation fraud, the fact of the matter in every investigation up to now is that actual voter-impersonation fraud cases are vanishingly rare. That’s why I want those 765 cases investigated: I suspect that to the extent any of them are violations of the law at all, they are much more likely to involve people with two residences voting, rather than voter-impersonation fraud cases. And who is more likely to have two residences? Wealthy people. And how are wealthy people more likely to vote? Republican.

    As for burying criminal cases, Fred, you know as well as I that if the SBI finds evidence of a crime, it will refer the matter to the locally elected district attorney who has jurisdiction. The state DOJ cannot prevent that. It will be up to that locally elected DA, no matter what party he/she belongs to, to prosecute the case. And it is unlikely that a single sitting DA would be reluctant to prosecute a case, particularly a Democratic one, if he/she knew that refusal to prosecute a case in which there was legitimate probable cause could and would be used against him/her politically in the future.

    Once again, you’re making excuses for Tillis and Berger and the voter-ID proponents because you know that their “reasoning” is bullshit and you’re afraid it’ll get called out once the SBI gets involved. Me, I’ve already emailed Tillis and Berger and demanded a criminal investigation. If you’re really concerned about voter fraud rather than Democrats voting, you’ll do the same.

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, April 6, 2014 8:35 pm @ 8:35 pm

  9. The SBE never bothered to look into this isuue under Democrat administrations for decades upon decades. Pllease stop poitinting your bent finget at those who uncovered the mess. Or don’t you care about election integrity ? And address your emails to Roy Cooper who may be too busy preparing a run for Governor to pay any freaking attention to your missive.

    Lex can yoy say Project Homestead

    Holder before Holder !

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Monday, April 7, 2014 1:16 am @ 1:16 am

  10. First, I challenge you to prove that the SBOE “never” looked into this issue under Democratic administrations. (And keep in mind that “decades upon decades” also takes in the two terms of Republican Jim Martin and, arguably, the single term of Republican Jim Holshouser.)

    Second, not only can I say “Project Homestead,” I also can say that the News & Record broke and ran with that story, that I wrote some of the coverage and edited almost all the rest, and that Stan Swofford, Taft Wireback and I shared a public-service award from the N.C. Press Association for doing so. So I’m not entirely sure what your point is.

    Comment by Lex — Monday, April 7, 2014 10:30 am @ 10:30 am

  11. Surely you jest. Your faith in Dem DAs is sadly misplaced. Can you say Henderson ?

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:24 am @ 12:24 am

  12. I don’t necessarily have faith in Dem DAs. As I said earlier, some of those DAs are Republicans. I’d say the odds of their refusing to prosecute any prima facie case of voter fraud are roughly zero. And that will put pressure on any reluctant Dem DAs.

    Politically, as long as those cases actually turn out to be voter fraud and not paperwork error, there is zero downside to this for the GOP.

    Comment by Lex — Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:09 am @ 9:09 am

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