Elections

Board of Elections database finds 339 ineligible felons who voted. Will their votes count?

State Board of Elections members Joshua Malcolm, left, and A. Grant Whitney Jr. during a meeting Thursday, September 8, 2016 at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh.
State Board of Elections members Joshua Malcolm, left, and A. Grant Whitney Jr. during a meeting Thursday, September 8, 2016 at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh. tlong@newsobserver.com

More than 300 convicted felons appear to have voted illegally in this month’s election in North Carolina, and the State Board of Elections will consider Tuesday if any of those votes will count.

Republicans have filed election complaints in at least 18 counties claiming that about 50 felons voted illegally. But after reading news reports about the complaints, a State Board of Elections staff member searched an agency database and found the number appears to be much higher.

People who were convicted of a felony are allowed to vote in North Carolina – but only if they’ve completed their sentence and are no longer in prison, on probation or on parole.

Board of Elections director Kim Strach brought up the issue during a board meeting Sunday. She said the agency’s information systems director, Marc Burris, found 339 voters when he searched a database that matches people who voted early or by absentee ballot with state corrections records showing felons serving an active sentence.

“We’re going to need to seek guidance on how we deal with that,” Strach said.

That question will go before the State Board of Elections during a 10 a.m. Tuesday meeting: Will ineligible felons’ ballots be tossed out automatically, or only if someone filed a formal protest to challenge their vote?

The board will also have to decide what options to give people whose voter registration is being revoked. In the past, Strach said, voters ruled ineligible have been sent letters and given 30 days to dispute the decision.

The database matches people using their first and last names, date of birth and driver’s license number. Burris’ search did not include people who voted on Election Day because their names weren’t yet available.

“We’ve always found that to be a reliable matching criteria,” Strach said.

But board member Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat, said he’s concerned that Burris searched the database without first seeking permission from the board or agency leaders.

“Kim, if you’re telling me that this was all done based on someone’s own personal decision, that concerns me,” he told Strach, adding that the board will still need to review Burris’ findings. “Now we can’t sit on it. It is what it is.”

A Board of Elections spokesman was asked about the agency’s protocols for database search, but hadn’t provided a response by Monday evening.

At least one of the original Republican complaints was based on inaccurate data about voters’ criminal status. In Wake County on Friday, one of three people alleged to have voted in spite of being convicted felons was determined to have been recently convicted. Two other alleged felons turned out to have been identified as the wrong people.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign, which was involved in the initial protests of potential felons voting, says it plans to review the new data. Republican McCrory trails his Democratic challenger, Roy Cooper, who has declared victory.

“We are concerned with reports of more felons discovered on the voter lists and will be taking appropriate action,” McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck said Monday. “We intend to let the process work as it should to ensure that every legal vote is counted properly.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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