North Carolina does not have rampant voter fraud, one of the publicly stated reasons that state Republican leaders passed a sweeping elections law in 2013, an expert testified Thursday.
Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said Thursday that North Carolina only had two verified cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014 out of 35 million votes cast in presidential elections and other elections where there was a large turnout. She said North Carolina residents often have a perception of voter fraud that is not supported by actual data.
And Minnite also said that a critical element in defining voter fraud is intent, and that there is a difference between illegal votes and fraudulent votes.
Her testimony comes as several groups, including the N.C. NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, are wrapping up their case in U.S. District Court that alleges North Carolina’s election law, known as House Bill 589, was intentionally passed by state Republican legislators to discriminate against and place undue burdens on blacks and Hispanics, poor people and young people. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation into law in August 2013.
The law eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10, prohibited out-of-precinct provisional voting, eliminated preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and increased the number of poll observers that each party assigns, among other provisions.
State Republican legislators said publicly that they pushed for the changes to ensure the integrity of the voting process and to stamp out the potential for voter fraud.
But Minnite testified that there is no evidence that North Carolina has significant problems with voter fraud or that same-day voter registration is more susceptible to fraud than the traditional method of registering to vote 25 days before an election.
Nationally, she said, there is little evidence of significant voter fraud in such states as Texas that have passed strict photo ID laws.
Phil Strach, one of the attorneys representing the state, pressed Minnite to acknowledge that there is a potential for voter fraud and that it can have an impact on a close election. Minnite also acknowledged under cross-examination that even one fraudulent vote is too much.
“It’s real in the sense that it could happen,” she said about voter fraud, “but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.”
Strach cited a 2013 case in the town of Pembroke in Robeson County in which nine basketball players were allowed to use same-day voter registration to cast ballots. He said the players didn’t live in Pembroke.
Minnite, however, said that there’s no clear proof that the players intentionally tried to cast fraudulent ballots. The blame should really be placed on election officials who accepted a post-dated lease as proof of residence. Under North Carolina law, a lease is not acceptable as proof of residence.
System, not fraud, is problem
Election laws are incredibly complex, Minnite said.
After 15 years of teaching, she said she is not surprised at what college students don’t know about how to register to vote.
The bigger problem, she said, is how effectively county and state elections officials manage the system, not voter fraud.
Plaintiffs also used testimony from Wake County’s elections Director Gary Sims to show that even the daughter of the former state chief appellate judge can be tripped up by the state’s election law.
Sims was Wake County’s deputy elections director in 2014. In a videotaped deposition played in court Thursday, Sims said that Anna Grace Martin, the daughter of recently retired Chief Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals, had tried to vote by absentee ballot in 2014. But elections officials could not find a record of her voter registration, Sims said.
She told election officials that she had registered to vote, along with her father and her sister, at the local DMV office in Wake County. But the DMV had never sent the voter registration application to Wake County officials, Sims said.
Anna Martin could have used same-day voter registration to cast a ballot, but that option was eliminated by the state’s election law. Sims said he had no reason to doubt Anna Martin or her father, but Anna Martin was not allowed to vote because there was no record of her voter registration in the system.
Thomas Farr, one of the attorneys for the state, argued through cross-examination that Martin’s case is rare.
Plaintiffs expect to rest their case today. In a conference call Thursday afternoon, attorneys for the plaintiffs said their strongest evidence has been that blacks use same-day voter registration and early voting at higher rates than whites.
Daniel Donovan, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, also pointed to testimony last week by Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. Lichtman testified that he considered the photo ID requirement, which is not part of the federal trial, in his overall analysis that there was racially discriminatory intent in passing the law.
Legislators eliminated college IDs from state schools and government employment IDs from the law, Lichtman said. Blacks have a disproportionate representation in both state schools and government agencies, he said.
Journal reporter John Hinton contributed to this article.