- North Carolina has a history of election fraud
- A “master at fixing mail-in ballots” explained to the New York Post the techniques he used to manipulate elections in several northeastern states
- North Carolina voters are vulnerable to election fraud, but that vulnerability can be addressed by a combination of vigorous enforcement of election laws, implementation of voter ID, and personal control of absentee ballots
North Carolina is no stranger to election fraud, and we are still vulnerable to many of the election fraud techniques explained by a whistleblower in New Jersey in a recent New York Post article.
A partial history of recent election fraud in North Carolina
Election officials found at least six cases of large-scale absentee ballot fraud involving numerous ballots during the tenure of former NC State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett (who last served under Gov. Beverly Purdue) that were bad enough to refer to prosecutors.
More recently, Robeson County has seen three elections overturned within the past several years due to election fraud. Neighboring Bladen County has for years endured ballot harvesting programs that eventually led to the 2018 9th Congressional District election being overturned. Evidence shows that individuals paid by McRae Dowless with money from Republican candidate Mark Harris, and individuals paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association with money from the NC Democratic Party, both conducted ballot harvesting operations.
(Dowless and several associates have been charged with ballot harvesting: taking possession of a voter’s ballot. So far, nobody associated with the Bladen County Improvement Association has been arrested for ballot harvesting.)
Confessions of an absentee ballot fraud master
A recent election in New Jersey had to be overturned because 1-in-5 absentee ballots were fraudulent. As in North Carolina, that case is just the tip of the iceberg of absentee ballot fraud going on in New Jersey. In an August 29 New York Post interview, an anonymous but vetted “master at fixing mail-in ballots” described how he has helped influence races across New Jersey:
“An election that is swayed by 500 votes, 1,000 votes — it can make a difference,” the tipster said. “It could be enough to flip states.”….
“There is no race in New Jersey — from city council to United States Senate — that we haven’t worked on,” the tipster said. “I worked on a fire commissioner’s race in Burlington County. The smaller the race, the easier it is to do.”
That point is important; most absentee ballot fraud, even if done in support of congressional or statewide candidates, is conducted at the county or city level. That makes it easier for ballot fraud operations to avoid detection. Importantly, it also allows election fraud teams to operate with fewer types of ballots than would statewide operations. However, one or a handful of ballot harvesting operations could sway a statewide election result.
How vulnerable are NC voters?
I reviewed what the whistleblower said he and others did in New Jersey and other states to see if North Carolina voters would be vulnerable to similar tactics.
- Mailing fake or altered ballots
The New Jersey operative said that reproducing ballots was easy for him since they do not have any markings that type them to individual voters. However, in North Carolina, county boards of elections write an individual number on the top of each absentee ballot. Also, each ballot has a unique barcode tying that ballot to a particular voter (so much for the secret ballot). So, the tactic the ballot fraudster describes here can only be used to alter ballots, not replace them:
He would have his operatives fan out, going house to house, convincing voters to let them mail completed ballots on their behalf as a public service. The fraudster and his minions would then take the sealed envelopes home and hold them over boiling water.
“You have to steam it to loosen the glue,” said the insider.
He then would remove the real ballot, place the counterfeit ballot inside the signed certificate, and reseal the envelope.
“Five minutes per ballot tops,” said the insider.
That is similar to the tactics used for absentee ballot fraud in North Carolina, in which “a team of two targets elderly or low-income voters and has them apply for an absentee ballot,” then returning later to retrieve that ballot. The best targets for this are people who vote infrequently since they are less likely to send the ballot in on their own, leaving it in their homes for operatives to gather later.
The General Assembly passed absentee ballot reform last year that prevents political operatives from gathering and submitting hundreds of absentee ballot requests directly. It also makes absentee ballot request submissions private so political operatives will not know exactly when most ballots will be in people’s homes. However, ballot harvesters can get around those changes by mailing absentee ballot requests or using handheld devices to submit absentee ballot requests online, so North Carolinians are still at least somewhat vulnerable to these tactics.
- Enlisting postal employees in ballot fraud
The New Jersey operative also claims to have enlisted postal employees in his operations:
“You have a postman who is a rabid anti-Trump guy and he’s working in Bedminster or some Republican stronghold … He can take those [filled-out] ballots, and knowing 95% are going to a Republican, he can just throw those in the garbage.”
In some cases, mail carriers were members of his “work crew,” and would sift ballots from the mail and hand them over to the operative.
We know that a mail carrier in West Virginia was convicted of altering ballot requests last July. We are also familiar with the case of hundreds of absentee ballots not being delivered for a 2017 election in New York (although that could just as easily been due to negligence as malfeasance).
At the individual level, there is no real protection from postal workers not delivering ballots that they think will count for a candidate they don’t like or handing them over to election fraudsters. However, a concerted effort to match missing ballots with postal pickup routes may be able to detect a pattern of fraud.
If you are worried about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service in delivering your ballot, you can take it yourself to your county board of elections office or, during early voting, at an early voting location in your county.
- “Helping” people in assisted living facilities vote
Hitting up assisted-living facilities and “helping” the elderly fill out their absentee ballots was a gold mine of votes, the insider said.
“There are nursing homes where the nurse is actually a paid operative. And they go room by room by room to these old people who still want to feel like they’re relevant,” said the whistleblower. “[They] literally fill it out for them.”
North Carolina has some strong legal protections for those in assisted living facilities. It is a felony for “any owner, manager, director, employee, or other person, other than the voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian” to make an absentee ballot request on behalf of a patient, sign as a witness on ballots, or help a patient complete his or her ballot (GS 163-226.3(4)). In addition, every county board of elections is required to maintain multipartisan assistance teams, volunteers who help voters in assisted living facilities request and vote absentee ballots.
However, as with other protections, legal protections for voters in assisted living facilities only work if vigorously enforced, and North Carolina officials have an unfortunate history of lax enforcement of election laws.
- Voter impersonation
While attacking absentee ballots is the preferred method for committing election fraud, those committing fraud also resort to in-person election fraud in states without voter ID laws:
When all else failed, the insider would send operatives to vote live in polling stations, particularly in states like New Jersey and New York that do not require voter ID….
The best targets were registered voters who routinely skip presidential or municipal elections — information which is publicly available.
“You fill out these index cards with that person’s name and district and you go around the city and say, ‘You’re going to be him, you’re going to be him,’” the insider said of how he dispatched his teams of dirty-tricksters.
Voting records are public in North Carolina, so those seeking to commit election fraud can find irregular or inactive voters to impersonate.
The best defense against in-person election fraud is voter ID, as the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform reported, a “Good ID system could deter, detect, or eliminate several potential avenues of fraud” (page 19).
North Carolina introduced such an ID system, which included free IDs issued by county boards of elections, after North Carolina voters approved a voter ID constitutional amendment in 2018. However, judges thwarted the voters’ will by blocking voter ID in the courts. So, voters in our state are still vulnerable to this kind of election fraud.
Conclusion: North Carolina voters are vulnerable to election fraud
Given the current state of election rules in North Carolina, and the history of election fraud in our state, we are clearly vulnerable to many of the forms of election fraud described by the New Jersey ballot fraud tipster.
At least some of that vulnerability can be addressed by officials vigorously enforcing absentee ballot laws and by citizens electing judges who will stop thwarting voter ID. In the meantime, voters can protect themselves from absentee ballot fraud by maintaining control of their ballots in each step of the absentee voting process, including hand-delivering their ballots to their county board of elections.