- Bad combo: The lack of voter ID with Same-Day Registration
- Why it’s impossible to properly verify SDR sign-ups
- Yet improper votes are often counted in the final tallies
So here we go again: another Presidential Election without real safeguards to protect our votes.
Ballots have been mailed to and returned by voters who have requested them, and in-person early voting sites have been selected and voting will begin at them on Oct. 20 and end on Saturday, Nov. 5. In less than a month, election workers in hundreds of early voting sites, known as one-stops, will be handing ballots to millions of people without any way of knowing who those people really are. Doesn’t sound good, you say?
Wait, it only gets worse, because in North Carolina we mix voting without an ID with Same-Day Registration (SDR) … for 17 days.
The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated an extra week of one-stop early voting and threw out the voter ID provision in North Carolina’s 2013 election reform bill, known as VIVA (Voter Information Verification Act).
SDR problems are well documented in North Carolina, especially in Robeson County, where voting irregularities surrounding SDR had become so commonplace that the local paper, The Robesonian, featured an editorial that explained the editorial board’s changing views. The editors wrote:
“When SDR and voting was introduced in this state, we were a fan, not fully understanding then the potential for abuse. We now know how vulnerable that same-day registration and voting, when married with an early voting period that was 17 days but now is 10 days, makes way for a disaster.”
And, of course, since then the early voting period has expanded back to 17 days.
But, facts and testimonials never seem to interest the mainstream media. If you’ve read anything about SDR in North Carolina’s mainstream media, you probably haven’t gotten the whole story and some of what you’ve read and heard is just plain wrong.
Case in point: A recent article in the Charlotte Observer, written by Steve Harrison. While he attempted to be informative, the article is lacking in the end. Perhaps it will be useful to fact-check this article to see how well a mainstream media outlet does in relaying the truth about a particularly partisan issue.
Harrison gets points for talking to someone from both sides of the issue, because that rarely happens. In this article he talks to Francis De Luca of the Civitas Institute and Bob Hall of Democracy NC. You may remember Hall as a liberal activist, registered lobbyist and executive director of a group that was an original member of the now infamous Blueprint NC organization. You will remember that Blueprint NC was the source of a leaked strategy memo in 2013 that exposed the game of how a coalition of liberal non-profits will “attack” elected officials in North Carolina.
They even called for their members to “eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.” Ultimately, Hall’s work with SBE produced a collection of some of the most liberal voting laws in the land – including Same Day Registration. Here is an email, that is essentially a letter drafted by Bob Hall for then Director Gary Bartlett’s signature that would go to the then state Rep. Deborah Ross pushing SDR. This is funny in light of the present election, in which she is running for the U.S. Senate! Bob Hall even says in this email to Deborah Ross (for Gary Bartlett), “…I believe we can preserve the security and integrity of the election process…? Ha! He never says how “he” would do this, but he didn’t need to because integrity and security are never even considered by the Left – they just give it lip service.
The article, “Does same-day voter registration in NC increase fraud risk? Experts disagree,” starts out soundly enough. Harrison describes the ideological differences surrounding SDR by pointing out that Republicans believe that SDR provides for higher chances of voter fraud. The GOP even cites data that shows SDR voters fail verification at a higher rate than voters who register to vote before the 25-day deadline. Harrison then states that defenders of SDR say that the data the GOP uses to prove a higher rate of unverified voters does not amount to attempted voter fraud.
In the article, Bob Hall tells Harrison that the higher rate of unverified registrations among SDR voters is likely due to people moving. The Charlotte Observer reporter does not ask a follow-up question, so one would conclude that Hall has evidence to prove his claim that the reason these voters can’t be found and that SDR voters move at a higher rate than voters who register before the deadline.
Not so! In fact no one knows who these voters are. They don’t know who they are because people using SDR are not required to show an ID either, only a document that shows their address. That document can even be a “utility bill”!
Hall goes on to say that in 2012 the local boards were not mailing out verification cards (that should have been mailed out immediately) until December or January. This argument actually strengthens the case against SDR, seeing that if the board of elections is unable to carry out its duties surrounding a particular process there is something seriously wrong, and the process should not be allowed to continue until solutions are found.
Next Harrison wrote that State Board of Elections sent him an analysis that showed that, in the March 2016 primary, out of 22,563 people who used SDR, 514 of them could not be verified. That’s about 2.3 percent of SDR voters who appear not to live where they say they lived when they registered to vote but voted at the same time (and their vote counted). The SBE even said that if these voters had registered before the statutory deadline (25 days ahead of Election Day), they would not have been allowed to vote.
Those SDR votes, even though unverified as required by law, counted the same as votes cast by citizens who went through the normal registration process.
Just in case you think that 514 number is small and perhaps insignificant, many political contests have been won and lost by less votes. This election will see that number increase tenfold, seeing that in 2012 nearly 300,000 people used SDR. The SBE knows the number of returned verification cards will continue to grow as the U.S. Post Office continues to return undeliverable cards, weeks and even months after they are mailed out.
Civitas’ own analysis of the 2012 primary election vote showed a much higher percentage of SDR voters that could not be found at the addresses they had given elections officials in order to vote. The Civitas Study showed that 7.3 percent of SDR voters had a first-class mailing returned as undeliverable, compared to 3.06 percent return rate for people who registered in the 45-day period leading up to the statutory deadline to vote, which is 25 days ahead of Election Day.
Then there’s the paragraph that states categorically that there are more than a dozen states that use SDR: “More than a dozen other states have same-day registration. Democrats say there have been no proven cases of voter fraud, and charge that Republicans are trying to depress participation among minorities, who often use early voting.”
The problem is — not all SDR is equal. There are actually 12 states now that allow SDR – but for only one day: Election Day.
While that’s bad enough, there are only three states (North Carolina, Maryland and Ohio) that allow SDR during the entire early voting period. In North Carolina, that means people will be allowed to register and vote during a 17-day period just before Election Day, and these voters will not go through the same verification process as the rest of us.
That’s the most egregious flaw with SDR – allowing people who register to vote and vote, bypass the necessary address verification process. All other voters must undergo verification when registering to vote. SDR voters do not go through this process because there is not enough time to complete the mail verification process before the certification of the election. Seventeen days is a long time for people who choose not to follow the law to vote and have their vote counted, and then those people can just disappear.
In 2008 and 2012, there were thousands of SDR voters who registered to vote, voted, had their vote counted and only after the election was certified and the votes officially county was it determined they didn’t live where they said they lived.
The last topic in the Charlotte Observer article attempts to waylay readers’ fears by talking with Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director Michael Dickerson. According to Harrison, Dickerson said that: “Mecklenburg County has always been able to send verification letters within two days after someone registers.”
It is good that Dickerson follows the law, but in the next sentence Dickerson tells the rest of the story. He acknowledges that the board of elections is at the mercy of the U.S. Post Office. There is usually less than a months’ time between the beginning of one-stop voting and the certification of the election, when all the votes are officially counted, and it can take a full month to complete the verification process.
Even though Dickerson has admitted that the elections board is at the mercy of the U.S.P.S. to return verification mailings as undeliverable, he says,
“That can happen after the election has occurred. In theory that gives elections supervisors’ time to remove unverified ballots before a county’s vote tally is officially counted, which is usually 10 days after an election.”
“In theory” are the operative words in this paragraph, because that is all it is, a theory. It can happen, but most of the time it does not, and if it does, counties don’t usually remove voters and/or votes.
I’ll give Steve Harrison of the Charlotte Observer a grade of “D” for this article. It was very short on fact, with a high degree of smoke and mirrors, but he did quote Francis De Luca when he said, “Any difference in the way people are treated between regular registration and same day registration, to me means people have unequal access to the ballot box.”
That quote is the only reason the Observer didn’t get an “F”.
While SDR mixed with no ID is the law of the land in North Carolina for this election, the legislature can work to help protect all or our votes. Until the voter ID requirement is restored and SDR is eliminated, the legislature can do some things to help. Lawmakers can work on bills that will help protect the integrity of our election process these ways:
- Require current, official photo ID for SDR voters. These voters cannot go through the verification process so they should undergo higher scrutiny when it comes to identifying them in the polling place.
- If an SDR voter’s verification card is returned undeliverable a second time, the case is forwarded to law enforcement for investigation of voter fraud.
- Conduct SDR only at County Election Board offices, not at remote Early Voting sites. In that way the people handling the registration are most likely actual elections staff and not temporary workers who will be gone after the election.
- If an SDR voter does not meet the voter ID requirements, he or she must vote a provisional ballot, and then must return within three days to provide proof of identity in order to have the ballot counted.
- Require current, official photo ID for inactive voters. Inactive voters are voters that have had at least two mailings returned to the board of elections as undeliverable. Most inactive voters have either moved or died. Again, greater scrutiny is required in these cases.
Suggestions 2-4 were “borrowed” from a list of security measures taken by other states that use SDR. This information can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.