SBOE Report Gives Answers . . . and Raises Questions

Mar 12, 2019 (Raleigh) — VIP has now obtained a report given to lawmakers by the State Board of Elections, who gave their “recommendations to secure the absentee voting by mail process.” (Click here to see the full report.).  We will list the main points of the March 1, 2019 report and provide elaboration and comments, as needed.

First, the SBOE gave the wrong law citation two times in the report. They said the report was required under S.L. 2018-144, §1.2(h). It was not.

This, in front of a big audience, harms SBOE credibility. How could they muff this?!

Eventually, we found it under SL 2018-144 § 1.2(i), where it mandated a report by March 1, 2019, on the following:

(1)        Any other recommendations to secure the absentee voting by mail process, including, but not limited, to the following:

a.         Increasing the potential criminal penalty for violations of that process.

b.         Increasing training and education for absentee voters by mail.

c.         Improved technological or administrative methods to ensure the proper chain of custody of absentee voting by mail.

(2)        Any recommended statutory changes related to security of absentee voting by mail . . . .

The two-page report began with an understated observation about the State BOE’s inquiry into North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District 2018 election.

Recent events highlight vulnerabilities in present absentee by mail voting processes, which may be exploited to affect election outcomes, erode public confidence, and prey on desperate communities within our State.

It “may be” exploited? Didn’t we all spend the last five months under the impression that Republican absentee ballot fraud affected the outcome of an election? Why the change in tone? The next sentence was pure spin:

At the same time, absentee voting opportunities promote participation by the temporarily displaced, voters with disabilities, and those with inflexible work or travel schedules.

Isn’t North Carolina a “no-excuse” absentee vote state? Can’t anybody request an absentee ballot for any reason under the sun . . . or for no reason at all? Why did you omit that point while selling the virtues of absentee voting?

After that bumpy start, they offered eight specific suggestions. Here are their headlines with our comments:

Concur. They want to outlaw photocopying absentee ballot request forms. Photocopying absentee ballot envelopes and voter registration forms is already a crime, so why not? Question: What’s the penalty? Is voter fraud still only a Class I (i.e., below a Class H) felony? Isn’t the severity the same if the perp copies a hundred forms instead of one?

Was this a problem during the last election? Also, how does this help “secure the absentee by mail voting process”?

How would this prevent local partisan BOEs from accepting noncompliant ballots that are cast by a majority party member? And how would this measure prevent or deter ballot harvesting machines? And by the way . . . why don’t you require witnesses and notary publics to print their names (in addition to scribbling it) on the envelope?

Wouldn’t prepaid envelopes make ballot harvesting cheaper to operate? Also, what role does voter intimidation play in absentee ballot harvesting? Have you asked about intimidation during any of your interviews of Bladen voters?

Concur, but would also suggest that campaign finance reporting should require campaign consulting firms to reveal the names of all 1099 employees. Even then . . . would this be prima facie evidence of illegal ballot harvesting?

Concur. They offered a reasonable way to achieve this goal but also raised questions. How will this measure prevent a partisan local BOE staff member from still sending them a ballot? And shouldn’t we also extend the retention schedule for those forms to 22 months, as we do for other absentee ballot related documents?

While we endorse this idea, we also have deep reservations that we’d like to discuss privately with a few lawmakers.

We fully support this idea but see a problem. There are not enough full-time employees at SBOE for this task, nor should there be. However, this surge hiring can be covered by retired Law Enforcement Officers who are willing and able to help, as long as it doesn’t disrupt their pension. We urge adding 2015’s HB 1055 because it allows the SBOE to deputize (i.e. train and pay) retired LEOs without affecting their state retirement pay.

Overall assessment from VIP Director, Jay DeLancy:

These suggestions are only a good start. They have to be stronger. Election officials realize that ballot harvesting groups (or “machines”) push right up to the edge of the law. Some even cross that line and think they can get away with it. Despite that Harris race, the odds of catching and convicting people doing this type of crime are slim to none.

A great preventive measure would be to get rid of “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting, which would cut the fuel supply for many of those ballot harvesting machines. But by definition, corrupt politicians hate doing anything that might make reelection harder. The patriot fights for REAL reforms all the way to the Supreme Court and we will not lose this one.

Unlike voter ID, this time around, the opponents cannot deny that the underlying voter fraud actually happened! So real reforms won’t need to be defended on the basis of “potential” crime. Either there was actual absentee voter fraud in Bladen County or a US Congressman got cheated out of his duly-elected position.

This has grave connotations.   

The wounds to our electoral process will not easily heal. Absentee ballot harvesting, though illegal in North Carolina, is carried out regularly in nursing homes and mental hospitals across the state and is rarely prosecuted. The 9CD incident gives the public a good look behind the curtain. Now, it’s time to fix the underlying problem.

If they take the easy way out and then just sweep aside any other concerns . . . let’s never forget: Voter cynicism can manifest itself in unexpected ways.