Whistling past absentee voter fraud
RALEIGH -- Not long before he left the position, former state Elections Director Gary Bartlett warned that one consequence of a voter ID requirement in North Carolina would be a shift toward more absentee voting.
Bartlett is probably right, and not only because individuals will look at absentee voting as a way to keep from being turned away from the polls due to someone questioning a voter ID.
Legislation currently being considered by state lawmakers to require North Carolina voters produce a picture ID at the polls actually encourages more absentee voting.
It does so by, among other things, allowing the state Board of Elections to produce request forms for absentee ballots online, which could be reproduced. To get an absentee ballot under current law, a voter or near relative must mail a handwritten request form or request a county-generated form, which is illegal to copy.
Bartlett, back in March, said he expected voter organizing groups to turn to the use of absentee ballots in response to a voter ID law.
That is exactly what occurred in Indiana after it adopted a voter ID requirement. Absentee voting increased by more than 20 percent.
Nationwide, the use of absentee ballots has been rising steadily for decades as more states, like North Carolina, have allowed no-excuse absentee balloting. Absentee ballots now account for almost 20 percent of all votes.
Of course, the voter ID requirement being considered by North Carolina lawmakers is supposed to be about stopping voter fraud.
What makes the absentee ballot changes in the legislation so troubling is that they do the opposite. They increase the likelihood that North Carolina will see a major voting fraud scandal in the future.
The reasons are obvious.
The easiest means to try to throw an election is not organizing some vast conspiracy where hundreds of people somehow divine who has voted and who has not, and then vote in the names of those who have not.
It is getting your hands on hundreds of absentee ballots, perhaps sent to people who live in an institutional setting like a nursing home, and filling out those ballots and forging the signatures.
The voter ID legislation includes safeguards to try to keep that from happening, but they are easily avoided by anyone with the will to do so. Just like voting in the name of another under current law, doing so is a felony.
The notion that the most serious threat for voter fraud comes from absentee ballots is not just my opinion.
In 2005, the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, led by Jimmy Carter and James Baker III, concluded, "Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud."
But you don't hear many of these groups pushing for voter ID laws talk much about absentee ballots.
In fact, none of them seem to have a problem with state lawmakers loosening absentee ballot rules.
I wonder why.