Trump claims fraud, but local board of elections already cleaning voter rolls

Published 12:10 am Sunday, January 29, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Depending on results of a “major investigation into voter fraud,” President Donald Trump last week vowed to strengthen voting procedures, but local board of elections employees were already in the midst of cleaning up voter rolls.

As part of a biennial process, the Rowan County Board of Elections this month started “list maintenance,” where voters are removed from the rolls. The biennial list maintenance occurs in odd years in Rowan County. Biennial list maintenance occurs across North Carolina in addition to any daily removals that may occur. Reasons for being removed from voter rolls include felony convictions, deaths, inactivity and moving to another county or state.

Roughly 3,000 people have been removed as a result of the biennial list maintenance, according to statistics provided Friday by the Board of Elections. There were 95,613 registered voters in Rowan County in early December. On Friday, that number was down to 92,571. A breakdown of removals by reason was not available.

A comparison of registered voters in Rowan County on Friday to those registered after November’s election shows Democrats have seen the largest decrease as a result of local list maintenance. Unaffiliated voters saw the second largest decrease. Republicans were third.

When asked about the list maintenance, Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy said he sees it as a process that makes certain “everybody who is a voter is truly accounted for.”

He also recognized that some of the Democrats were removed from rolls because they hadn’t voted since 2008, when former President Barack Obama was elected.

“I’m not bent out of shape about it,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of the normal process and I trust our professional staff to do their work as they are mandated by the state to do.”

The Rowan County Board of elections mails a card to voters after the person doesn’t vote in two general elections. If that card comes back undeliverable, the Board of Elections can change a voter’s status to inactive. The person can still vote, but a timer starts for that person eventually being removed from voter rolls.

If a person has an inactive status and doesn’t vote in the following two general elections, the Board of Elections can remove the person from voter rolls.

A person removed from voter rolls for inactivity cannot be denied the right to vote, according to the Rowan County Board of Elections. The person may need to cast a provisional ballot but can be reinstated as an active voter.

Commenting on local list maintenance, Republican National Committeewoman and Salisbury resident Ada Fisher said voter rolls should be examined or “culled” and updated regularly because some people need to be removed.

There may be bipartisan support for list maintenance, but opinions differed sharply between Hoy and Fisher when asked about Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

Last week, he used Twitter to announce he’d be asking for a “major investigation into voter fraud.” The investigation would include people registered to vote in two states, which is not a crime, “those who are illegal” and people who are dead. Depending on the results, Trump tweeted, new procedures for voting would be introduced.

When asked, Fisher didn’t specifically address Trump’s statements but said proposals such as voter ID help ensure “the integrity of the vote.”

“I don’t think it’s an issue which should be pooh-poohed,” Fisher said about voter fraud. “If you’re not going to do voter ID, I don’t know how to check the validity of voting.”

A federal court in 2016 struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law and a U.S. Supreme Court decision left the lower court’s ruling in place.

Hoy responded to questions about Trump’s voter fraud statements by saying the president hasn’t produced “viable evidence” to support his claim.

In a meeting with congressional leadership last week, Trump reportedly said 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally and caused him to lose the popular vote.

“Our system here and integrity of the Board of Elections staff is such that any kind of claims like that are quite frankly absurd and there have been Republicans that have challenged (Trump) on that,” Hoy said. “If you have evidence, show it. Otherwise, be quiet.”

Fisher noted that there were complaints of voter fraud during North Carolina’s elections. The claims were especially prevalent in the governor’s race, where former Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign filed election protests in a number of counties alleging that dead people and convicted felons cast ballots. Across the state, allegations of voter fraud were rejected for various reasons by elections boards, which were majority Republican.

Fisher said she was aware of 100 people in 2016 who were illegally on the voting rolls in North Carolina and directed questions about details to conservative-leaning policy group Civitas.

In a TV news appearance last week, N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said voter fraud should be investigated to “provide some confidence to the system.”

The N.C. Democratic Party responded with a statement calling Trump’s investigation a “wild goose chase.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.