Scott Mooneyham: Absentee ballots and voter fraud
RALEIGH — For the last two years, a substantial investigation has been underway in North Carolina into allegations of real voter fraud, the kind that can turn an election.
You don’t hear much about it in Raleigh or in the state Legislative Building. After all, this alleged fraud doesn’t fit very well into the narrative that North Carolina needs a voter photo ID requirement in order to prevent fraud.
The SBI investigation, looking into the 2010 Yancey County sheriff’s race, is centered on allegations that jail inmates had their charges reduced around the same time that they filled out mailed-in absentee ballots witnessed and provided by sheriff’s deputies. Those ballots, of course, would not require a photo ID.
The community newspaper that uncovered the alleged fraud, the Yancey County News, won three national journalism awards for its reporting.
Responding to the allegations, Sheriff Gary Banks told the newspaper that the people interviewed “are mistaken.”
Banks’ father, Kermit Banks, held the job before him. Back in 1986, a federal grand jury indicted the elder Banks on voter fraud charges, related to vote buying and absentee ballots, as a part of the FBI’s “Project Westvote.” He was not convicted.
As I’ve previously written in this column, the last significant case of voter fraud prosecuted in North Carolina came when a Dunn city councilwoman faced 16 voter fraud felony charges in 2002. Accused of receiving absentee ballots and returning them to the county board of elections with forged signatures, she ultimately pled guilty to a single misdemeanor.
That history might lead one to believe that those concerned with voter fraud should concentrate their efforts on strengthening absentee ballot security.
The opposite appears to be taking place at the North Carolina General Assembly.
Last week, House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County and other House Republicans filed a sweeping elections law bill that would change how voting occurs in the state.
Much of the media attention has focused on how the bill would reduce the period for early voting, eliminate same-day voter registration and end straight-party ticket voting.
But the legislation also contains a provision that would weaken absentee ballot security, allowing third-party groups to generate request forms for absentee ballots and changing rules that require voters to fill out those forms themselves.
The change would allow organizing groups to create their own absentee ballot requests, put them before voters for their signature only, and then have the ballots mailed.
You don’t need to be a genius to see how allowing third-party groups to become more involved in the absentee ballot process could facilitate fraud.
No politician can be for this kind of change and then be seen as anything but duplicitous when going on to talk about fears of voter fraud.
They apparently don’t care how they are seen.
North Carolina lawmakers appear determined to stamp out the variety of voter fraud that they can’t see but know is there, while ignoring and even encouraging that which is right in front of their faces.
Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.