Publisher's note: This post, by Susan Myrick, was originally published in the Issues section of Civitas's online edition.
A recent hearing reminded us all about the reality of voter fraud in North Carolina.
On Dec. 9, the State Board of Elections (SBOE) heard three different appeals stemming from protests that were dismissed by the local boards of elections in Durham, Scotland and New Hanover counties. In two of the three cases (Durham and Scotland) there were allegations of voter fraud and/or vote buying. (New Hanover's case involved, for the most part, questions regarding the administration of the election process.)
In Durham County, John Everett was there to appeal the decision by the Durham County Board of Elections to dismiss his protest, which involved an uncontested judgeship. Everett asked for a "full investigation into the irregularities and allegations of election fraud." SBOE Chairman Josh Howard explained that in order to overturn the November outcome in the non-contested judge's race, at least four board members would have to agree that there was sufficient evidence that tens of thousands of votes had been tainted. The SBOE summarily affirmed the Durham BOE's ruling and quickly moved on to the Scotland County appeal.
Two-term incumbent Sheriff Shepard (Shep) Jones, a Democrat, had appealed the Scotland County BOE's dismissal of his protest, in which he alleged vote buying by his opponent, Ralph E. Kersey, the Republican challenger, who won by only 235 votes. Kersey, a Marine Corps veteran and retired highway patrolman, is Scotland County's first Republican sheriff.
The Scotland County case gave SBOE Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm an opportunity to give his take on voter fraud in this part of the state. After Shepard's opening comments, which included examples of vote buying, Malcolm identified himself as living in the county (Robeson) next to Scotland and suggested that:
"Folks in Scotland are very similar to folks in Robeson."
He said, "We all know, and anybody who has any other opinions are misguided, we are one of the most economically depressed areas in the state — which leads people to sometimes make bad decisions."
To say Malcolm is familiar with elections and voting in Robeson County is putting it lightly. Before being named to the SBOE, he was Chairman of the Robeson County Board of Elections. In his remarks, Malcolm also made reference to the last election that the SBOE overturned, a municipal election in 2013 in Pembroke, Robeson County; the new election was held in March of 2014. The SBOE ordered a new election because problems "occurred to such an extent in this election that they tainted the results of all the Pembroke municipal elections and cast doubt upon their fairness." By all accounts the voter fraud occurred when people used Same-Day Registration (SDR) to vote illegally and candidates were advising voters how to game the system.
Voting irregularities surrounding SDR had gotten so commonplace in Robeson County that the local paper, The Robesonian
, featured an editorial on Oct. 4 that explained the editorial board's changing views on SDR. The article was written a week after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the SDR and out-of-precinct provisions to stand. The editors wrote:
"When SDR and voting was introduced in this state, we were a fan, not fully understanding then the potential for abuse. We now know how vulnerable that same-day registration and voting, when married with an early voting period that was 17 days but now is 10 days, makes an election — even more so in this county, where hauling* makes for a nice payday for so many, including, shamefully, some elected officials.
"The best evidence locally is two elections, a Lumberton City Council contest in 2007 and the Pembroke municipal race of 2013, whose results flip-flopped in the do-over elections held after allegations of fraud were well-publicized, effectively firing a shot over the bow. The logical conclusion in each instance is that the first election was tainted."
In the end, in the matter of Scotland County, the SBOE investigator said that the board is not finished with the investigation, but that investigators did not find irregularities on the scale needed to recommend overturning the election. The SBOE voted to affirm the Scotland County board's decision to dismiss the protest and suggested that the local board refer the case to the county's district attorney.
The whole Scotland County/Robeson County discussion reminds us of how much voter fraud there really is in NC, despite what critics of voting reform claim.
* "Hauling" is the process of transporting voters to the poll. While it is perfectly legal to "get out the vote" in this way, there are many allegations of abuse in the process.