National election watchdog issues report calling for cleanup of N.C. voter rolls
A national group that focuses on election integrity issues is calling for North Carolina to clean up its voter rolls before the 2022 election. The group’s latest report points to multiple areas that merit state election officials’ attention.
The State Board of Elections offered a point-by-point response to the report’s findings Tuesday afternoon.
“North Carolina officials need to use the time they still have to prepare voter rolls for the midterm elections,” said J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. PILF released its report Tuesday. “Time is running out. Silly, obvious errors in the voter roll can create opportunities for voter fraud and chaos in a close election. Correcting deceased and duplicate records now will help to preemptively address those risks.”
With the headline “North Carolina: Tens of Thousands of Deceased and Duplicative Voter Registrations Found After 2020 Election,” the report identifies three areas requiring action.
First, PILF raises concerns about dead people on the voting rolls. The group reports that 7,933 people were still registered to vote in 2020 in North Carolina “long after death.” One example involved a World War II veteran named Hoyle Helms who died in 1997.
“Following his death, he remained on the voter rolls for nearly 25 years,” according to the PILF report. “He is not an outlier. Mary Coleman died in 2003 and remained active on the state’s voter rolls for nearly two decades. These examples were not removed by officials until 2021, despite their deaths roughly 20 years ago.”
The report does not make any accusations or offer any estimates about the number of dead voters registered in North Carolina in 2022.
PILF’s second issue involves people registered to vote in more than one state. The group reports 42,984 registered N.C. who “left the state and established or renewed their out-of-state voter registration” before the 2020 election.
Just 8% of the “duplicate registrants” cast ballots in North Carolina, while 87% cast ballots outside the state.
“It’s not illegal under state or federal law to be registered in two different places, though some states like North Carolina will consider a subsequent registration a disqualifying action,” according to PILF. “The onus is on election officials to keep track of movers when they are not forthcoming about their actions. North Carolina does not participate in any state sharing agreements or interstate compacts to track N.C. voters who may either move to or die in other states.”
The third issue involves “same-address duplicate registrations.” PILF reports 13,525 people appeared to register twice in North Carolina under variations of the same name.
“North Carolina’s voter registration system, like nearly every other studied by PILF, can be tricked into registering a person multiple times with extremely similar biographical data inputs at the same addresses,” according to the report. “These serve as an administrative challenge to be resolved as we see more automation to vote-by-mail.”
“Otherwise, ‘John Public’ and ‘John Q. Public’ could each vote once, while the actual John is voting twice – a specific violation of North Carolina election law.”
Expanded use of mail-in ballots requires increased attention to voter lists, PILF argues. The report cites 15 million mailed ballots nationwide that “went unaccounted for” in 2020, along with 1.1 million returned to election offices as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service.
“North Carolina broke its records that year, showing 2,860 undeliverables and nearly 86,000 unaccounted for ballots requested by the voters,” according to the report. “An undeliverable ballot typically means the voter data is out of date and available tools are not being leveraged to spot the problem in advance.”
Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, responded to PILF’s findings. “County boards of elections should be more efficient in removing those who have died or have moved out of the county from voter registration rolls,” Jackson said. “Clean voter lists are an essential part of election security.”
“In the longer term, the General Assembly should provide funding for the State Board of Elections to join the Electronic Registration Information Center interstate data-sharing agreement in the next budget,” Jackson added. “ERIC helps member states effectively share data to help make voter rolls cleaner. The State Board is already authorized by law to join such agreements but does not have the funding to do so.”
The State Board of Elections responded Tuesday afternoon to PILF’s findings. “The State and County Boards of Elections in North Carolina remove ineligible voters from the voter registration database as required by state and federal law and the State Board’s voter list maintenance policy,” according to an email from Patrick Gannon, the state board’s spokesman. (Read the full policy here.)
On the topic of dead voters, “Under N.C.G.S. § 163-82.14, election officials receive a monthly report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services with the names of deceased individuals who were residents of the state,” according to the state elections board. “The State Board then distributes the names to the county boards of elections for removal. County boards of elections will also remove deceased voters when notified by a near relative of the voter’s death, or based on records from a county register of deeds. To avoid erroneous removals of eligible voters, election officials in North Carolina do not use nongovernmental sources to identify deceased registrants, other than near relatives.”
Elections officials also address duplicate registrations, according to Gannon’s email. “The State Board routinely provides county boards of elections with lists of potential duplicate registrations. Duplicate records must be researched by county boards of elections before any removal of a record can occur. This careful process ensures no eligible voter is inadvertently removed from the voter rolls.”
The state responded to PILF’s findings on mail-in absentee ballots. “PILF’s discussion of absentee ballots is misleading,” according to Gannon’s email. “Absentee ballots in North Carolina are labeled with identifiers that are linked to a particular voter. If a ballot was returned and signed by someone other than the voter it was sent to, it would not count.”
“Also, the report does not appear to account for the common occurrence of someone receiving a ballot and ‘spoiling’ that ballot by deciding to vote in person. Again, because absentee ballots are linked to voter records, when a voter shows up to vote in person and their information is checked into the system, the poll books would not allow that person’s later-delivered absentee ballot to count. It has already been spoiled.”
State elections officials support membership in the ERIC data-sharing agreement. “Membership in ERIC is one of the State Board’s top legislative priorities,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “This program would ensure that North Carolina is doing everything legal and possible to keep its voter rolls accurate and up to date.”