Opinion: Carolina Beat

CJ Editorial: A 112-Year-Old Voting Glitch

The following editorial was published in the November 2012 print edition of Carolina Journal.

Did you hear the one about the nearly 10,000 centenarians who voted in each of North Carolina’s last two elections? According to State Board of Elections records, nearly 9,900 108-year-olds cast ballots in the 2008 election, and roughly 9,200 voted in 2010. During the initial stages of early voting, apparently more than 1,000 112-year-olds shuffled to voting stations and stated their preferences.

Maybe Chicago does not have a monopoly on dead voters after all.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2010, only 53,000 centenarians lived in the United States. It’s unlikely one-fifth of them reside in North Carolina, so it’s easy to see how some critics of our state’s election laws might smell voter fraud, and say it’s reason enough to require photo ID from voters at the polls.

We agree with the need for voter ID, but there is a plausible explanation for this anomaly — and a simple way to fix it. Indeed, how quickly state and local elections officials clear up this mess is a test of whether they are serious about maintaining current, accurate voting records.

State Elections Board Executive Director Gary Bartlett said the issue originated in the 1980s, when local election boards first were required to get a date of birth when a person registered to vote. (Previously, local boards merely demanded proof a person was at least 18 — or 21 before the 26th Amendment was ratified — at the time of registration.)

As state registration records were computerized, those people were entered into the system with a default birth date of Jan. 1, 1900 — making them appear to be 108 in 2008, 110 in 2010, and 112 this year. No problem, right?

Not so fast. The election board is admitting that the voting records of tens of thousands of North Carolinians have not been updated for roughly 30 years. Charlie Collicutt, deputy director of the Guilford County Board of Elections, told the Greensboro News & Record that Guilford County alone has 3,500 112-year-olds on its voting rolls.

The prospect for voting fraud, at least on a small scale, is obvious. If a child, sibling, or estranged spouse who was registered to vote leaves the state, the family members still living at home could order mail ballots and vote in their names.

Moreover, the surviving family members of a voter who died out of state could order a mail ballot for their late relative and vote on that person’s behalf; the Voter Integrity Project, a watchdog group, recently discovered that Virginia and South Carolina do not notify Tar Heel State election officials when former North Carolinians pass away in their states.

There’s no way to discover if fraud is happening, or how frequently, but there’s an easy way to prevent it: Update the voting rolls.

The state elections board should instruct county boards to flag all those “112-year-olds” and contact them. Require them to provide proof of their dates of birth — a copy of their driver’s license would do. Those who don’t respond might justify an in-person visit by an election official.

If the state board won’t act, the General Assembly may need to step in to protect the integrity of our state’s elections. Tens of thousands of voters with phony birth dates should not remain on the books.