This blog by Chris Kromm is cross posted from Facing South
The Department of Justice's dubious crusade against "voter fraud " — which despite looking at millions of votes since 2002 has only netted 24 fraud convictions — isn't just a federal issue. It's also being used at the state level to push restrictive voter ID bills and — most recently in North Carolina — to stop momentum for same-day registration of voters, a popular reform that would boost voter turnout.
Last week, insiders tell us, just as a North Carolina senate committee was prepared to pass the reform (the House already has), State Auditor Les Merritt — a Republican elected in 2004 — issued a cryptic email to legislators warning that he "had information" that might cause them to think twice.
What dirt did Merritt have? We still don't know, because he refuses to release his office's full findings. But in a "preliminary report" on research the auditor's office has been doing since January — and just happened to release as the same-day registration bill came up for a vote — Merritt said he had some damning information, as the Charlotte Observer reports :
Merritt's staff cited 24,821 invalid driver's license numbers in the voter registration database, 380 people who appear to have voted after their dates of death and others under age 18 when they voted.
Merritt's "investigation" was happening at the same time that the Department of Justice was looking into possible cases of fraud — of which no substantiated cases have been found to date.
It's probably a good thing Merritt didn't publicly release his report, because as Gary Bartlett, director of the state election board, revealed, many of the basic charges made in the preliminary report were without merit (so to speak):
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the elections board, responded Wednesday with a stinging 10-page letter declaring many of the findings invalid. He accused Merritt's office of misleading the elections board and of rejecting its help.
"(Y)our office appears to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the data that was reviewed or about the federal and State laws governing the voter registration process," Bartlett wrote in the letter, which he provided to lawmakers Thursday.
For example, Bartlett said, many of the people who appear to have voted after their dates of death voted absentee and then died prior to Election Day. At least some people under 18 who voted did so legally, Bartlett said, because state law allows 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election if they will be 18 the day of the general election.
Bartlett said the state's regular maintenance of voter rolls resulted in 725,499 names removed during a recent 19-month period. Most had been inactive, moved or died.
Most importantly, no one — neither the DOJ nor the NC state auditor — has proved that a single person has committed voting fraud, which is the only relevant fact for the NC senate to consider as it looks at same-day registration at early voting sites.
As election reform advocates point out, what's happening in North Carolina to derail same-day registration falls within a broader national pattern:
Bob Hall, research director of Carrboro-based Democracy North Carolina, which analyzes voter data and helps register people, also said the Justice Department's analysis is flawed.
"We're learning that this department has a record of harassing state-level officials who take their responsibility seriously and who don't act in a partisan way to depress voter registration or reduce the voting rolls," Hall said.
Merritt will have to come up with an explanation for the disputed findings by next Tuesday, when the Senate Committee on Government and Election Reform will bring him in to testify before voting on the same-day registration bill.
UPDATE: The Raleigh News & Observer amplifies on the supposed fraud around "dead voters" — no one has shown that it's related to fraud, or even that they end up counting in a race (much less swinging an election):
Recent probes by state and federal officials of voting records have turned up a few ballots apparently cast by deceased voters. That has led to claims of voter fraud.
But it isn't necessarily fraudulent. As Dome discovered back when he was just a WakePol , people occasionally die after they have already cast an absentee ballot.
Under state law , you must be eligible to vote on Election Day, and being dead makes you ineligible. But no one at the local or state level regularly checks the absentees for dead voters.
During a recount, political opponents on both sides will often comb through the data and ask for those ballots to be disqualified. The State Board of Elections relies on that competitiveness to weed out ballots that might swing a race.