Christensen: GOP goes after the wrong kind of voter fraud

rchristensen@newsobserver.comApril 13, 2013 

North Carolina has a long history of election fraud, although not the kind being debated in the halls of the legislature.

The way elections have historically been stolen in North Carolina is through the use of absentee ballots for obvious reasons – not only are there no photographs required but the “voter” doesn’t even have to show up in person.

For decades the Democratic organizations that ruled North Carolina would ship thousands of absentee ballots to machine-controlled mountain counties thatwould provide as many votes as were needed.

The 1920 governor’s race was almost certainly stolen that way. The machine-backed candidate, Cameron Morrison, finished second when the voting was completed on Election Day. But after 11 days of counting absentee votes trickling in from the mountain counties, he was declared winner of the Democratic nomination by 87 votes. That was at a time when North Carolina was a one-party state and Democratic factions stole elections from each other.

During the 1936 Democratic primary for governor, the state Board of Elections, controlled by the Democratic machine, sent out 108,250 absentee ballots in a runoff in which 480,000 votes were cast. Most were sent to mountain counties. A 1944 study found that the statewide percentage of absentee ballots cast was 6.7 percent, but in hard-fought mountain counties such as Clay it was as high as 26 percent.

Typically when absentee voting started, both parties contacted certain voters to see if they wanted to vote absentee. One label for these voters was “floating voters.” According to one mountain Democrat, whoever obtained the majority of those voters usually won.

Old mountain pols say the tradition of using absentee ballots to help steal elections continued into modern times.

Forged signatures used?

My colleague Scott Mooneyham, who writes for The Insider, recently highlighted two incidences of voter fraud related to absentee voting: an SBI investigation into the 2010 Yancey County sheriff’s race and the case of a Dunn city councilwoman who in 2002 was accused of receiving absentee ballots and returning them to the county board of elections with forged signatures.

In the sheriff’s race, the SBI is focused on allegations that jail inmates had their time reduced around the same time they filled out mailed-in absentee ballots witnessed and provided by sheriff’s deputies. The scandal was uncovered by theYancey County News.

Sheriff Gary Banks, a Republican, told the newspaper that the people interviewed were mistaken. The Dunn councilwoman pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor.

Loosening regulations

The Republican-controlled legislature says that fighting voter fraud is a priority. It cites voter integrity as the reason it wants to pass a law requiring voters to produce photo IDs at the polls. It cites fraud as a reason the state needs to cut a week off of early voting and end same-day registration.

But as far as new restrictions on absentee ballots? Not so much. In fact, House Majority leader Edgar Starnes of Hickory is proposing to loosen restrictions on absentee balloting by allowing third parties to collect multiple absentee ballots.

While other voting tools such as early voting and same-day registration tend to get used more by Democrats, Republicans more often use absentee ballots. During the 2012 election, Republicans mailed in 108,522 absentee ballots, while Democrats mailed in 62,210 ballots.

After getting some criticism for its see-no-evil stance, House Republicans did include a provision in their voter ID bill that would require people voting with absentee ballots to include their driver’s license number, Social Security number, or their non-operating license number.

But absentee ballots would still be the easiest way to commit voter fraud – a long North Carolina tradition.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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