For the past week, attorneys arguing for and against North Carolina’s new voter ID law at the federal trial in Winston-Salem have raised and knocked down the specter of voter fraud.
The rule – that North Carolina voters show one of six photo identification cards before casting a ballot – was adopted in 2013. Republicans who had won control that year of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office touted the elections law overhaul as a way to preserve the integrity of one person, one vote.
Critics quickly countered that the 2013 ID provision – then one of the strictest in the country – was meant to disenfranchise voters of color who often cast ballots for Democrats.
Many numbers have been cited by experts during the federal trial to support claims of expected disenfranchisement and counter claims that only a small percentage of registered black voters don’t have an acceptable ID.
More numbers are likely to be highlighted Monday, when closing arguments are set for a trial that has garnered national interest.
The arguments are set nearly two years after state Board of Elections officials released early numbers from a report that cross-checked North Carolina voter rolls with those in 28 other states.
The initial report focused on 35,750 records of people who voted in North Carolina with first names, last names and dates of birth that matched people who had voted in other states.
It also highlighted 765 North Carolina voters in 2012 whose last four Social Security digits also matched those of people who voted in other states that year.
The announcement sparked news headlines and outrage from North Carolina politicians, including legislators on an elections oversight committee who said the findings affirmed the need for the elections law overhaul adopted in 2013.
Thom Tillis, now a U.S. Senator, was leader of the state House then. Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, issued a joint statement proclaiming the “newly discovered, alarming evidence of voter error, fraud.”
Claude Pope, who was chairman of the state Republican Party at the time, said the report showed fraud represented “a significant threat” to elections. He praised his party’s efforts to “to protect the integrity of the ballot box.”
After the initial burst of headlines, the state Board of Elections narrowed its focus to the 765 voters. This week, Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board, released results from further investigation into those voters.
In 2015, the board received further data that prompted them to look more deeply at 650 people who voted in the 2014 general election, and a new investigations team was put in place by March 2015.
That team worked on allegations of fraud from the Crosscheck report and others, according to a summary that Lawson provided this week. The team focused its resources initially on 22 records that turned up in both the 2014 and 2015 reports, and of those, four cases have been referred to prosecutors for allegations of double voting.
Evidence of fraud, though, is not what’s on trial in Winston-Salem.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder will be asked to decide whether the Voter ID rule, amended in 2015 to allow voters who can show a “reasonable impediment” to being able to obtain an ID card, disenfranchises black and Latino voters as alleged.