RALEIGH — State Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, believes the integrity of North Carolina elections is at risk. He’s fighting to toughen enforcement.
“I think the level of voting fraud is a heck of a lot higher than we are privy to. It is something that’s undermining our democracy. It’s as simple as that,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland is the primary sponsor of House Bill 29, an act to crack down on illegal voting. It would allow clerks of Superior Courts to make public what are now confidential records of people who request to be removed from jury duty. It would apply to cases in which the reasons given also would disqualify someone from voting. Those lists would be wiped clean every two years.
The clerks of court would have to share the lists with county boards of election and the State Board of Elections, making it easier to detect voters who cast ballots illegally.
H.B. 29 passed the House last year by a 74-40 vote. But it’s been bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee.
Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, and a former member of the Federal Elections Commission, thinks legislation such as Cleveland’s is warranted. Von Spakovsky says local and state officials should be more proactive in comparing records at their fingertips that might easily identify illegal voters.
Von Spakovsky was the featured speaker Tuesday, April 17, in Chapel Hill as part of the conservative ICON lecture series that explores policies to restore individual freedom and personal responsibility.
Cleveland was among several dozen attendees. “I can get nothing from leadership as to why it’s stuck in the Rules Committee,” Cleveland said. “This, I believe, is the third time I’ve sent it over there. I’m hopeful, but that is the best I can say for it.”
Carolina Journal asked for comment from Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, Rules Committee chairman.
“Unfortunately, we wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating on what will happen during the short session before our members have had a chance to come back into town and discuss their priorities,” said Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver. Rabon did not respond.
The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement hasn’t taken a position on H.B. 29, spokesman Patrick Gannon said.
“When you’re called for jury duty, where do you think they get your name? The voter registration list,” Von Spakovsky said. Jury duty selection is followed up with a mailed form answered under oath. One of the questions asked is whether the recipient is an American citizen.
Von Spakovsky cited a county in Virginia where an election official told him at least 1,500 people are removed from jury duty annually because they say they aren’t U.S. citizens.
“The county court should send that information to election officials so they take the person off the [voter registration] list, and it should be sent to the DA so they can investigate it, and see if the person did this intentionally,” Von Spakovsky said. “And the biggest thing is when you get a case like this, prosecute. There are just too many DA’s that don’t want to do this.”
He thinks government generally is unlikely to take election integrity actions on its own.
“I would urge all of you to get involved not only in getting the legislatures to pass the right kind of laws, but getting your county elections officials to do the kind of things they ought to be doing,” Von Spakovsky said.
In a technology-driven Information Age, elections officials should be taking simple steps such as verifying voter registration addresses via property tax records or even Google Earth maps.
Numerous studies have found a host of voter registration problems around the country. He cited case after case of confirmed voter fraud.
Heritage’s voter fraud initiative has identified 1,132 proven cases in which there were 938 criminal convictions, 48 civil penalties, and a host of judicial findings. Twelve of those were in North Carolina.
“That is the tip of the iceberg,” von Spakovsky said.
In 2012 the Pew Foundation found significant errors and problems in 24 million voter registrations nationwide. Of those, 2.8 million were people registered in more than one state, and 1.8 million dead people who hadn’t been removed from voter rolls.
In 2016 the Florida-based Government Accountability Institute, a private foundation, studied voter registration and voting history lists in 21 states representing 17 percent of all U.S. registered voters. By comparing first and last names, dates of birth, and full Social Security numbers, the study determined 8,500 people voted in more than one state. By extrapolation, as many as 45,000 people may have voted illegally in the 2016 election.
The study found 15,000 people registered using addresses that were post office boxes, public buildings, gas stations, vacant lots, basketball courts, parks, warehouses, and office buildings.
“That’s just plain reckless negligence by election officials,” Von Spakovsky said. He noted local officials can use property tax documents and a variety of other public records to cross-check voter registrations.
He said voter fraud is as old as the nation. Democrats commit more violations, but Republicans aren’t blameless, he said.
The targets of these scams are often the elderly, the poor, and racial minorities. Their absentee ballots may be stolen, party bosses can intimidate voters into casting ballots for a preferred candidate, or voters choose to stay home on election day because they’re convinced their vote doesn’t matter, von Spakovsky said.
He was appointed to President Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity. It was tasked with comparing voter registration lists and voting records to find people voting in more than one state.
“The progressive left went crazy,” he said. So many states threatened to sue that the commission ceased operating. The irony, he said, is that the information is public record. Political parties and candidates routinely obtain those lists for election mailings.