After the events that led to the NC State Board of Elections ordering a new election in the 9th Congressional District, you would think that the legislature would seriously address absentee ballot fraud.
And you would be wrong.
Not only has the legislature so far failed to advance legislation addressing absentee ballot fraud, some legislators have submitted a bill that would create larger pools of nonvoters who are registered to vote. That would make the kind of ballot harvesting that McCrae Dowless allegedly conducted last year even easier.
House Bill 589, sponsored by Graig R. Meyer (D – Orange), Marcia Morey (D – Durham), Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D – Wilson), and Joe John (D – Wake), would required the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies to automatically register to vote anyone having business with them unless that person specifically opts out. Anyone registered for classes at any state community college or university would also automatically get registered to vote unless that person opts out. The idea behind the proposal is that more people getting registered to vote means more people voting.
That is not how it works.
Automatic voter registration will not increase the number of people who actively support candidates with their votes. Political scientists have known for years that making registering to vote easier does not increase voter turnout. That is because, for most people, the real cost involved with voting is not registering to vote or even the act of voting itself. The real cost of voting is getting and processing enough information to make a meaningful choice on the ballot. Getting more people registered to vote does not change that fact.
What automatic voter registration would do is load voter rolls with people who passively find themselves placed on those rolls without any intent of actually voting. Those “voters” are just the kind of people that political operatives seek out in their ballot harvesting operations. Ballot harvesters fill out absentee ballot requests for them, file those requests, and later visit those registered voters to make sure that they filled out their ballots “right.” The result might even look like increased voter turnout in some elections.
In addition, the bill provides a get-out-of-jail free card for people committing voter registration fraud. While it would still be illegal to “knowingly and with fraudulent intent” provide false information, the bill states that if a person illegally registers to vote “the presumption shall be that the person’s registration is deemed officially authorized and shall not be attributed to any fault of the person.” Incredibly, the bill also states that “nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring the Department of Transportation to determine eligibility for voter registration and voting.” So, functionally, neither the people fraudulently registering to vote nor the agency fraudulently registering those people to vote would bear responsibility for the fraud.
While there are other problems with H589, the automatic voter registration and voter registration fraud provisions alone are enough to make this bill not worth considering.