The fictional version of voter fraud involves sinister characters — possibly illegal immigrants! — showing up at the polls repeatedly, perhaps disguising their nefarious intent by wearing different hats or an occasional false mustache.
“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times … Millions and millions of people,” said Donald Trump. He’s been running on this theme since he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. We will not even bother to envision what Election Day would look like if millions and millions of extra voters were standing in line.
There’s also Trump’s more recent argument that voters should have to have special IDs because “if you go out and you want to buy groceries you need a picture on a card. You need an ID.”
Really, candidates of the future, if you want to steal an election just find ways to keep the other side from participating. You could try tweeting threats. (“Cheat at your own peril.”) Or simply using the whole voter fraud issue to make it more difficult for people to register, and more self-conscious about how they’ll be treated if they show up at the polls.
For Republicans, all this has the convenient effect of discouraging people who are young, poor or minority from taking part in the system. Democrats are not really into the game. We would like to believe this is because of a firm belief in an open political process. But it’s probably also because, short of putting all the polls in fifth-floor walk-ups, there’s no easy way to keep elderly white men from voting.
As the midterms approached, Trump tweeted a warning that “Law enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING.” And what do you know? There really did seem to be a case of possible election-stealing in a congressional race in North Carolina.
It involved a couple of counties with large African-American and rural populations, and the victim was the Democrat. Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, is the party’s new dream red-district combo: Ivy League college graduate/Marine, who found faith while fighting in Iraq and was baptized in water from the Euphrates River. People thought he had a chance, and on election night things were close, very close. But the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, a conservative former pastor, seemed to be about 900 votes ahead. McCready conceded.
Then — whoops — it appeared those counties had been the site of some extensive “ballot harvesting.” This happens when supporters of one candidate go out and encourage people to request absentee ballots, which they then reap like so many rows of soybeans. Sometimes they help a voter fill out a ballot. Sometimes, if a voter doesn’t seem to be following the preferred line, they lose said ballot on the way to the mailbox.
Suffice it to say that investigations are underway. North Carolina actually has a very open election system and chances are pretty good that the authorities will figure this all out. “In most states if this was going on you wouldn’t be able to see it,” said Jason Roberts, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina.
Several morals to this story, people. One is that Donald Trump is wrong about everything.
OK, not a shock. But feel free to notice that Trump has never bothered to mention any concern about absentee ballots. “It’s the absentee ballots that are most ripe for fraud,” Roberts said. “People have been saying that for years.”
Meanwhile in North Carolina, the Republican state Legislature is hard at work on a constitutional amendment to require voter IDs.
Writes for The New York Times.