Opinion

Our honest elections

This editorial appeared in the News & Record, Greensboro

There was voter fraud in North Carolina last year. But not much.

The audit by the State Board of Elections released last week concludes that at least 508 ballots were cast by ineligible voters. That’s a tiny fraction of the 4.8 million votes tallied, but it isn’t nothing.

So neither side in the political argument about ballot security can claim to be right. There’s less than a big problem and more than no problem.

However, everyone should recognize that election officials in North Carolina work very hard to make sure elections are run with integrity.

Most fraudulent voters are felons, according to the audit. Felons lose the right to vote in North Carolina until they complete their sentences, including probation or parole obligations. People who are in prison aren’t going to get to the polls, but individuals who are on probation or parole might. That’s a violation of law, and they should know better. But election officials also are updating software so they'll know when to remove felons from the registration rolls.

Some noncitizens voted. In every case, the person entered the country lawfully. Some thought they were entitled to vote, as in the case of a 70-year-old woman who was married to a citizen and thought that made her a citizen.

There were also some individuals who were wrongfully tagged as ineligible but should have been allowed to vote, the audit found.

Twenty-four cases of double voting are under investigation. Some of these people think they’re entitled to vote everywhere they own property, which isn’t true, according to the audit.

The state board “rarely encounters verified cases of voter impersonation, though two cases are being referred to prosecutors from the election last fall,” the audit reports. In one case, a woman voted by absentee mail-in ballot in her husband’s name. In the other, a woman tried to vote at the polls by impersonating her late mother.

There were a few cases of voters who cast early ballots but died before Election Day. Those ballots should be discarded if they’re detected, but this isn’t the same as “dead people voting.”

The audit found that intentional fraud is very rare and consists almost entirely of isolated incidents.

It’s not confined to any one political party. The audit also makes clear that fraud can be detected often enough that it should deter efforts to cheat. Cases are turned over to district attorneys for possible prosecution.

Election officials do a good job of policing the system, but they can always do better. Nevertheless, there’s thin evidence to support drastic changes in the voting process, such as eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting by provisional ballots.

The argument for a photo ID is weak, given how infrequently anyone tries to impersonate another voter. Restrictions that make it significantly harder for some people to vote aren’t worth the cost as, according to the audit, 99.99 percent of votes are cast by eligible voters.

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