Responding to fears that the COVID-19 pandemic would intrude on the public’s access to voting precincts and a subsequent lawsuit that leveraged this fear, the North Carolina Legislature voted overwhelmingly last week to open the door to easier absentee balloting. But the downside to this action is that it opened the door to potential voter fraud as well.
House Bill 1169, signed into law Friday afternoon by Governor Cooper, allows for expedited delivery and use of absentee ballots with a variety of loopholes that can easily be manipulated by savvy political operatives.
The legislation is in response to earlier lawsuits by a variety of leftwing organizations to loosen the state’s elections laws, so the legislature acted preemptively only to end up doing the bidding of the suing parties. The lawsuit, supported by the Right to Vote Foundation and the National Redistricting Foundation (NRF), cites the COVID-19 pandemic as creating or exacerbating issues related to North Carolina’s existing absentee voting procedures. Specifically, it challenges the state’s ballot postage requirements, witness requirements, the deadline by which election officials must receive mailed ballots, and the rules and procedures around signature matching.
Under this new election statute, HB1169, absentee ballots may be requested via phone, fax or e-mail in addition to the traditional form of request being made by mail or visiting the county board of elections office. In addition to the ease of access for the absentee ballot, HB1169 also reduces the actual paperwork required to verify the identity of both the requester and as a result the voter.
Theoretically safeguards are in place to avoid the potential of voter fraud. In addition to the name and address being required for receiving the absentee ballot, the recipient must provide a number from either their driver’s license or state ID card or the last four digits of their Social Security card. Also required will be date of birth and the signature of the voter or their verifiable guardian.
In an effort to facilitate voting, HB 1169 temporarily reduces the number of witnesses, from two to one, required to verify that the legal voter cast the ballot. This stipulation will, according to political observers, revert back to the requirement of two witnesses after the 2020 election.
Any of these “safeguards” can be easily circumvented by those who know the system and are knowledgeable on how to scrape the internet for information. But to make the process even easier for malefactors is the creation of an on-line portal allowing applicants to seek absentee ballots with this information and using an electronic signature. Imagine if you can the quality of signatures on a computer tablet versus one using a pen and paper. There is no way a forensic analyst will be able to discern if these electronic signatures are accurate.
Arguments that fraud is not a concern are naïve. At the same time HB1169 was being passed state election officials warned of fraudulent absentee voter request forms sent to approximately 80,000 N.C. residents by the Center for Voter Information, a liberal leaning Washington D.C. group. According to election officials many of the forms were partially filled out in advance, which is against state law.
This did not appear to be accidental. Media reports note other states have criticized that group’s efforts which included sending absentee ballot request forms to individuals who were not registered to vote.
Adding to the potential of mischief if not outright voter fraud is the fact that North Carolina’s voter rolls are full of non-active voters. According to Judicial Watch about 17 per cent of North Carolina’s registrations are inactive, making the state the fifth highest in the nation for inactive voters. Nineteen counties have 20 percent inactive voters, and three counties register 25 per cent inactive. The presence of these inactive voters makes the possibility of fraudulent absentee ballots being used in the name of the inactive, and most likely non-resident, an easy target.
The opportunities for fraud is expansive so it is up to concerned voters to be vigilant and engage in the process. The die is cast, the statute is now in force. Voters who are concerned need to pay attention to the activities of their county boards of elections and seek to participate in any capacity possible to assure the system works with integrity.
To quote, ironically, Center for Voter Information founder Page Gardner, “The future of our democracy is at stake. We have a major opportunity to close the gap on voter registration…” Yes, and groups such as hers are ready to take advantage of this new legislation and “close that gap” with actions that are inappropriate at best and most likely illegal, as the state board of elections has noted.