The General Assembly passed a bill yesterday that will help combat absentee ballot fraud, but it is not a fool-proof solution to the problem and election officials will need to be diligent as ballot harvesters adjust their methods in response.
S683, sponsored by Warren Daniel (R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell), Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham) and Ralph Hise (R-Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancy) sailed through both chambers nearly unanimously with only Representative Darren Jackson (D-Wake) voting against it.
Two things account for that broad support. The first is that events in last year’s 9th Congressional District race exposed alleged ballot harvesting (the illegal collection of absentee ballots by political operatives) by McCrae Dowless, a political operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris. Evidence from the 9th district hearing and media accounts also indicated that people paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association with money from the NC Democratic Party were also involved with ballot harvesting, making its prevention a bipartisan cause.
The second reason that almost all Democrats supported the bill is that it included a provision to permanently restore early voting on the last Saturday before election day. That something they have long sought in the mistaken belief that early voting increases turnout (it doesn’t), presumably to their political benefit.
Provisions in the final version of the bill to combat absentee ballot fraud include:
- Absentee ballots must be accompanied by a copy of the voter’s ID or either their driver’s license number, state ID number or last four digits of their Social Security number.
- Absentee ballot requests must include a voter’s driver’s license number, state ID number or last four digits of their Social Security number.
- The State Board of Elections must create unique absentee ballot request forms for each election year.
- Only the voter, the voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian, or a member of a multipartisan team trained and authorized by the county board of elections pursuant to may submit absentee ballot requests.
- Only the voter, the voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian, or a member of a multipartisan team can fill out an absentee ballot request form (voters with some disabilities may request help from someone not in this list).
- Increases the penalties for some absentee ballot fraud-related activities and makes other activities (such as destroying completed absentee ballot request forms with the intent to obstruct a vote) a felony.
(The bill also allows counties that currently use touch-screen voting systems to use them in the 2020 primaries but requires all counties to use paper ballots for the 2020 general election.)
This bill is an important step towards combating absentee ballot fraud. However, ballot harvesters will seek ways around the law. While the days of people dropping off hundreds of absentee ballot requests at the county board of elections office may be over, political operatives could change tactics by mailing requests in. Election officials should be on guard if they see spikes in the number of mailed-in absentee ballot requests. They should also scan absentee ballot request forms for evidence that they were filled out by someone other than the voter, the voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian, or a member of a multipartisan team.
This bill does not fix all that ails absentee voting in North Carolina, but it goes a long way towards protecting the integrity of our elections.