One in nearly 4.8 million.
That’s how many fraudulent votes North Carolina’s voter ID law would have stopped in the 2016 election had it not been halted by the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based on a recent audit from the State Board of Elections. After all this time, the court battles, and the protests that the law would disproportionately hurt minority voters, it turns out the push for voter ID was all to stop just one potentially fraudulent vote out of 4,769,640 cast last November.
North Carolina’s voter ID law imposed strict voter ID standards, as well as restricted the amount of early voting days, to stop in-person voter impersonation. A judge halted most of the law last year after concluding that it “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The audit’s findings expose the lie behind voter ID laws: Republican lawmakers say (in public) that their voter ID laws are meant to stop voter fraud, but actual voter fraud is vanishingly rare. Instead, these laws are seemingly geared — by some Republicans’ admission, in fact — toward making it harder for minority and Democratic voters to cast a ballot.
The state audit found voter fraud is extremely rare
The state audit looked at faulty votes on Election Day 2016. In total, it found that 508 ineligible votes were cast.
That’s an alarming number. But the individual circumstances suggest these ineligible votes were less about malicious election rigging and more about people voting when they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to.
About 441 of 508 ineligible votes were reportedly cast by felons who are supposed to be legally barred from voting — and it’s believed that these people just didn’t know they’re not allowed to vote under North Carolina law while on probation. Another 41 were cast by noncitizens with legal status in the US — some of whom likely believed, incorrectly, that they were allowed to vote.
As the Charlotte Observer noted, “[T]he primary cause appears to be a lack of understanding about the law.”
Another 24 ballots involved double voting. One was voter impersonation by mail. Just one was in-person voter impersonation — by a woman who impersonated her dead mother, reportedly to honor her mom’s final request to vote for Donald Trump. And there were no reported, credible cases of unauthorized immigrants voting.
To be sure, it would be nice if there weren’t any ineligible votes.
Ultimately, however, these votes weren’t a big part of the overall election results: The 508 ineligible votes made up just 0.01 percent of all votes cast in the election. The 26 votes that didn’t involve felons or noncitizens made up 0.0005 percent of all votes. And the one in-person voter impersonation case made up 0.00002 percent of all votes.
This is not going to swing almost any election. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state by 3.6 percent. Even in the unusually close governor’s race, Democrat Roy Cooper beat Pat McCrory by about 0.1 percent, or nearly 10 times the number of all ineligible votes cast.
The state audit isn’t the first to produce these kinds of findings. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt tracked credible allegations of in-person voter impersonation across the US for years. He found just 35 total credible allegations between 2000 and 2014, when more than 800 million ballots were cast in national general elections and hundreds of millions more were cast in primary, municipal, special, and other elections.
In short, in-person voter fraud is extremely rare.
North Carolina’s voter ID law had another, malicious purpose
If voter fraud is so rare, why did some Republicans push a voter ID law through — even defending it through waves of court battles and protests?
One explanation is voter ID laws and other voting restrictions disproportionately hurt minority voters who are more likely to vote Democrat. This is why a judge struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law last year.
Due to socioeconomic disparities, voting restrictions disproportionately impact minority voters. For example, since minority Americans are less likely to have flexible work hours or own cars, they might have a harder time affording a voter ID or getting to the right place (typically a DMV or BMV office) to obtain a voter ID, rely more on early voting opportunities to cast a ballot, or require a nearby voting place instead of one that’s a drive, instead of a walk, away from home or work.
Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse.
“Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.
“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.”
In other words, this really was about stopping minority voters from voting, because they’re more likely to vote Democrat. Indeed, during the election last year, the state GOP sent out a statement celebrating that black voter turnout was down because it showed the “North Carolina Obama coalition” was “crumbling.”
The good news is the research shows that the Republican attempts to make voting harder, from limits on early voting to voter ID requirements, have little to no effect on elections — typically only depressing turnout by a percentage point or two at most.
Still, when we’re talking about Americans’ most basic democratic right, any attempt to restrict it for political gain is deplorable — especially when such efforts are blatantly racially motivated.