Now we finally know how bad voter fraud is in North Carolina

By:  The Observer Editorial Board

At last, we know how badly photo voter ID is needed in North Carolina.

For years, Republicans in North Carolina have alleged that in-person fraudulent voting is widespread while Democrats have said it is non-existent. But no one knew for sure, leaving the two sides talking past each other on voter ID.

On Friday, the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 election. It found that 4,769,640 votes were cast in November and that one (1) would probably have been avoided with a voter ID law. One out of nearly 4.8 million.

When a federal appeals court threw out North Carolina’s restrictive voting law last summer, saying it targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision,” Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore panned the judges and questioned their motives.

“We can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election,” they said.

The election proceeded without the law’s many discriminatory provisions. Did the judges’ decision reopen the door for voter fraud? Yes, to one person in 4.8 million. Not quite enough for Clinton or Cooper to steal the election.

That said, all North Carolinians should value the integrity of our elections. The legislature and the Board of Elections must walk a fine line, doing nothing to discourage legitimate voters while doing their best to eliminate ineligible voting.

The Board’s investigation is helpful toward that end. It found 508 ineligible votes cast. About 87 percent of those (441) were felons who voted. State law prohibits felons from voting until their sentence is fully served, including probation and parole. It is believed that many of the felons who voted did not realize they could not vote while on probation.

The probe found 41 non-citizens, from 28 countries, voted. All were here legally, but were not eligible to vote. The audit also found 24 cases of double-voting and two cases of voter impersonation (one by mail and one in person).

The Board of Elections announced it is taking steps to address these problems. In the case of felons and non-citizens, the primary cause appears to be a lack of understanding about the law. One option would be to let felons vote once they have been released from custody and still on probation, as many other states do.

Absent that, elections officials will work with the court system to better ensure that felons are informed of the law governing voting. They will also work harder to make sure a felon who is taken off the voter rolls in one county doesn’t re-register in another, and will update software to better check for felon status at the time of registration.

So the audit will produce helpful changes. It also gives a clear-eyed look at the extent of voter fraud in North Carolina. After the off-base outcry from then-Gov. Pat McCrory and Republicans, it is heartening that an independent investigation finds the state’s elections are sound and virtually fraud-free.