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Thursday, April 27, 2017


Voting Rights Jeopardy

by Tom Sullivan

"Alex, I'll take Voting Irregularities for $100."
It's the solution to dead people voting.
"What is Voter ID?"

That is the conservatively correct response to every voting irregularity in the category. Dated voter rolls. Felons voting. Clerical errors. Registration errors. Non-citizens voting. Double voting. Machine tampering. Ballot box stuffing. Absentee ballot fraud (a big one). The entire gamut of election irregularities. For voter fraud vigilantes, one non-solution fits all and puts the voting rights of millions of legal voters in jeopardy in pursuit of the ever-elusive, voter imposter. Why is that?

Right-wing media has been flogging the results of an audit of the 2016 election released last week by the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE). Misrepresenting those results helps sell one single product that won't prevent the overwhelming majority of suspected ineligible votes. On Fox & Friends Sunday April 23, guest J. Christian Adams declared, "The system is broken and needs work."

Yet the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board concludes:

On Friday, the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 election. It found that 4,769,640 votes were cast in November and that one (1) would probably have been avoided with a voter ID law. One out of nearly 4.8 million.
Let that sink in. In fact, the audit identified 508 suspected cases of inelligible votes. Offsetting those (highlight in the original), "A provisional ballot audit resulted in 428 ballots of eligible voters being counted that would not otherwise have counted." (They won't be celebrating that on Fox News.) But before we get to the details, the Republican-led NCSBE is careful not to mischaracterize what the votes flagged as worthy of investigation represent (highlight in the original):
This agency strongly cautions readers not to refer to each of these cases as “voter fraud.” As stated earlier, “ineligible voters casting ballots” may be the result of unintentional or intentional conduct. Fraud, in most cases, is an intent crime that requires prosecutors to show that the voter knowingly committed a crime.

The evidence suggests that participation by ineligible voters is neither rampant nor non-existent in North Carolina. Our audits suggest that in the 2016 general election, approximately 0.01% of ballots were cast by ineligible voters. Most incidents are isolated and uncoordinated, and detecting technical violations does not always prove purposefully unlawful conduct. Our work indicates that ineligible voters are not isolated to one political party or any geographical region of the state.
Contrary to the alarmism on the right about election integrity, a 0.01% error rate would indicate a system that works pretty well, well below the defect rate for consumer electronics, actually. The Observer continues:
About 87 percent of those (441) were felons who voted. State law prohibits felons from voting until their sentence is fully served, including probation and parole. It is believed that many of the felons who voted did not realize they could not vote while on probation.

The probe found 41 non-citizens, from 28 countries, voted. All were here legally, but were not eligible to vote. The audit also found 24 cases of double-voting and two cases of voter impersonation (one by mail and one in person).

The two impersonation cases have been referred to prosecutors. They involve ballots by persons voting the preferences of recently deceased members of the family. (Both were Republicans.) The in-person case is the one identified out of 4.8 million that might have been stopped by a photo ID law.

It's the solution to non-citizens voting

The Board is also careful to remind readers that these are for the most part only suspected cases of “ineligible voters casting ballots." They've been flagged for further investigation. In many cases, the initial screening proves incorrect.

Investigations on non-citizen cases also have revealed the complexities of immigration law and citizenship status.

For instance, some individuals achieve citizenship as a matter of law through “derived citizenship” as the child of a naturalized citizen, though paperwork showing that changed status is only available if requested and official databases may not reflect the correct status. An Application for Certificate of Citizenship costs $1,170. Individual contact with affected registrants has also illustrated the limitations of the data. Even where data from the Division of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the voter rolls matched exactly, a high proportion of flagged individuals were citizens.
And since the cases identified to date are all legal immigrants, they would already have government IDs.

It's the solution to felons voting

As in the cases of felons returning to voting before completing their parole or probation, the Board believes "education and understanding of state law appear to be the primary problem."

It's the solution to double voting

The Board rarely encounters cases of double voting, but has flagged 24 records for further investigation. If past experience is any indication, suspected double voting will turn out in a majority of cases (I wrote about one case I know personally here) to be bad data matching or clerical errors:
Detecting double voting and voter impersonation is a time-intensive process. Database matching is not enough, as administrative errors can lead to voter history being assigned to the wrong person — such as when a poll worker checks off the wrong name on the poll book. Instead, data is only the starting point for cases that ultimately involve live interviews and signature analyses. NCSBE has begun that process on possible instate double voting cases in 2016. This initial review of NC voter registration records indicates that there are a few dozen possible additional cases of double voting; however, this process is still in its preliminary stages and staff have not yet completed review of voter documents to determine whether the match was due to administrative error rather than illegal voting.
The NCSBE offers additional steps it is taking for reducing voting errors to augment deterrents already in place. They involve improved voter education, updated elections software (to check felon status at the time of registration), automated detection of transcription errors in real time, and continued use of the Interstate Crosscheck Program, among others.

But not voter ID, the all-purpose response when "election integrity" advocates play Voting Rights Jeopardy.