By Rob Roper
The North Carolina congressional race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready could be heading for a re-vote because it appears absentee ballot fraud may have influenced the outcome.
Harris is ahead by around 900 votes, but the suspicion of fraud arose from fact that he received an improbably high percentage of absentee ballot votes from one district, while in another district where Republicans statistically shouldn’t fare as well, a suspiciously high number of absentee ballots went unreturned. What this indicates is that in the former case absentee ballots were manufactured and/or manipulated, and in the latter case they were intercepted and destroyed. The courts will have to sort out these allegations.
Keep in mind the 9th Congressional District in North Carolina, with a population of 778,477, is larger than Vermont. There were 279,840 total votes cast in the tainted race. In Vermont, the total number of votes cast in our gubernatorial election was 272,972. So, this isn’t just impacting minor elections in tiny, out of the way places.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, Lizaida Camis was recently charged with bribing citizens to vote for the candidates she worked for. According to local reports, “Camis provided these voters with vote by mail applications, delivered the completed applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office, and then went to the voters’ homes once the ballots were mailed to them. In some cases, she told them how to vote.” She secured the deal by offering them $50.
This is similar in style to an infamous case of vote fraud in 2004 from Appalachia, Virginia, in which the mayor and over a dozen coconspirators bribed voters in a low-income housing project with alcohol, cigarettes, and even a bag of pork rinds to vote their way.
And this gets to a key point: the real victims of this sort of abuse are the poor and the vulnerable. You’re not going to get many takers by flashing a bag of pork rinds or a pack of smokes around a middle class or high-income neighborhood. But, for someone dealing with mental health issues, or an addiction, or just struggling to make ends meet, fifty bucks or a Big Mac in exchange for a vote might seem like a pretty tempting offer.
If bribery doesn’t work, there’s always intimidation. In 2014, the Mayor of Martin, Kentucky, was convicted of, according to the Department of Justice:
Intimidat[ing] poor and disabled citizens in order to gain their votes during Robinson’s 2012 campaign for re-election. For instance, members of the conspiracy directed residents of public housing to vote by absentee ballot under the supervision of Thomasine Robinson or another member of the conspiracy. … Trial testimony established that the conspirators completed absentee ballots, marking their choice of candidates, and instructing the voters to sign the pre-marked ballots. … Voters who did not comply faced eviction or the loss of priority for public housing.
This kind of fraud could not occur when absentee voting was rare by design, requiring a legitimate excuse, and ballots were cast almost entirely in a private, secure voting booth under the supervision of election officials. Advocates for voting “reforms” that lure citizens away from secure voting sites profess to be motivated by making it easier for some people to vote — a noble goal — but what they are really doing is making it easier for other people to cheat by undermining the secret ballot.
Some will scoff that this kind of fraud doesn’t happen often, and the honor system works. But to buy that argument, you have to believe that politics brings out the best in people, attracts the most honest and honorable actors, and that grown adults who are willing to steal lawn signs, vilify their opponents in the meanest ways, and engage in all manner of ugliness to win elections will somehow draw the line at bullying or bribing vulnerable absentee voters even as the rules make it easier and easier to do so.
The voting booth ensures the integrity of our electoral system by guaranteeing the principles of the secret ballot (every vote is cast of the voter’s free will), and “one person, one vote” (we are all equal in this process) are real and in force. If our rules make it so that election officials cannot guarantee that our voting system secures these principles, how can we have faith in our electoral process? We should not let today’s policy salesmen tempt us into throwing these ideals away in exchange for a little extra convenience once every two or four years. That’s a lot like selling your vote for a bag of pork rinds.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.