President Donald Trump and others have long claimed, without evidence, that there is widespread “voter fraud” in America. Some have pointed to the mounting evidence of fraud in North Carolina as proof that voter fraud is a real problem.
Yet, I would argue that the situation in North Carolina proves nothing of the sort. There, a political operative who was working for a consulting firm hired by the Republican candidate is accused of directing an illegal scheme involving absentee ballots.
What occurred in the Tarheel State wasn’t voter fraud. It was election fraud. And unlike allegations made by the President about voter fraud, there’s actual evidence that election fraud may have occurred in North Carolina.
Voter fraud usually has one of two definitions.
The first is that someone ineligible to vote in an election is casting a vote in said election. This could be a Massachusetts resident casting a vote in New Hampshire (something that the President alleged and that has been debunked).
The second is when an individual is pretending to be someone else when casting a ballot. There’s no evidence that this happens with any real frequency either.
The Brennan Center, a public policy center that focuses on voting rights and elections, has compiled some key statistics on voter fraud and found that it rarely happens. From 2000 to 2014, the Washington Post found only 31 credible instances of voter fraud in the entire country. There is a better chance of a person being struck by lightning than committing voter fraud.
Despite the rarity of verifiable voter fraud, laws have been passed to stop it. These include more rigorous voter identification laws to ensure the person casting the ballot can legally do so and is who the person claims to be. Studies are unclear how much the vote is actually suppressed by voter identification laws. Republicans argue they help keep elections legitimate, while Democrats argue they act to suppress voter turnout.
Importantly, more rigorous voter identification laws would probably not have stopped what occurred in North Carolina. Down in the 9th Congressional District, the strong case for fraud rests on mail-in absentee ballots. These are ballots that were sent to the addresses of residents of the 9th Congressional District.
Now, as CNN’s Ryan Nobles reported, some of these residents may not have known that absentee ballots were requested in their name. Perhaps more rigorous voter identification laws being discussed by the legislature would have helped in these particular instances. It likely would not be enough, however, to stop fraud. The Raleigh News & Observer notes “voter ID on mail-in ballots? It may take more than that to stop election fraud.” Indeed, many voters whose ballots may have been tampered with wanted to cast votes.
Either way, all evidence suggests that the voters who received mail-in absentee ballots were, in fact, entitled to vote. The voters didn’t perpetrate fraud. They were victims.
The alleged fraud turns on a number accusations. They almost all center around Leslie Dowless McCrae and those connected to him. McCrae denied the allegations to The Charlotte Observer, but has not responded to multiple requests from CNN for comment.
First, people allege that Dowless and those paid by him collected absentee ballots from voters. According to state law, only the voters themselves, near-immediate family members or guardians of the voters can submit absentee ballots. In other words, what Dowless and those connected to him are accused of doing is illegal.
Second, according to affidavits, some voters were told by the alleged ballot harvesters that it was OK to leave the ballots unfilled and unsealed. This would, in theory, allow people who weren’t the voters to complete the ballot.
Third, there were statistical anomalies among absentee ballots. There were an unusually high number of unreturned absentee ballots in some parts of the 9th District. What happened to those ballots is unclear, though affidavits suggest that a number of ballots were given to McCrae. No one knows for sure what he did with them. There has also been a statistically improbable percentage of votes cast for candidates backed by McCrae throughout the years.
You’ll note that in none of these points that the voters were accused of doing something. Additionally, as I previously noted, the fraud claims in North Carolina don’t “rely on just one or two pieces of evidence. Rather, it’s a slew of evidence.” This is very much unlike voter fraud allegations that are usually pulled out of thin air with little to no proof.
None of this is to say that what seems to have occurred in North Carolina doesn’t happen elsewhere. It’s at least plausible. Still, there’s no case in recent memory has been uncovered on such a large scale.
I’m also not sure what could be done to prevent what occurred in North Carolina. Going to strangers’ homes and collecting their ballots is already illegal in North Carolina.
One could argue that absentee voting should mostly be curtailed to stop what happened in North Carolina from happening again. Remember though there there isn’t a lot of proof that what occurred in North Carolina occurs with any real frequency nationally.
What is clear though is that what happened in North Carolina has no real connections to what has previously been said by Trump about “voter fraud.”