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Politics
Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

North Carolina Man Voted Twice, But Imperfect System Caught It

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This article is made possible through a partnership between WFAE and Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of our republishing policy.

A few days before Election Day, Richard Becht went to vote early. He lives in Union County and voted on Oct. 31, the last day of early, in-person voting in North Carolina. Becht said he voted early because he knew he would be busy with work on Election Day.

"There was no line, I walked right in, I did my thing, and I walked right out," Becht said. "I thought it was easy-peasy and that it was done. And obviously, it was not."

That’s because when Becht looked up his vote online using the State Board of Elections’ voter tool, it had no record he'd voted. Becht was worried.

He and his wife decided to call the Union County Board of Elections early on Election Day. After they called that morning, a staff member reached out to him to collect his information. He said they promised to call back before polls closed, to tell him what to do, but they never did.

Later, Becht’s wife went to vote at their precinct and asked a poll worker to look up his voter history. That poll worker found no evidence Becht had voted. She suggested he should come to vote.

"I ran out there, the same woman — I walked right up to her and gave her my name," Becht said. "She gave me a piece of paper, I signed it, got a ballot — a regular ballot — filled it out again, and that was it."

That wasn't what was supposed to happen.

Gary Bartlett, the former executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said poll workers should give out a provisional ballot if there’s any question of whether a voter is eligible to vote — voters just like Becht. That way, the voter can still cast a ballot, and the board of elections can figure out later if that vote should count.

"That is the whole purpose of the provisional ballot, it’s sort of like insurance to ensure the integrity that who is eligible to vote has their vote counted," Bartlett said.

No matter what ballot is used, once it’s cast, that vote gets recorded in a poll book at the election site. Poll workers are supposed to update poll books on Election Day, so they have an accurate picture of who has or hasn’t already voted.

Across dozens of North Carolina elections, data show voter fraud is extremely rare, but it does exist. The State Board of Elections’ Investigations Division reported that between 2015-19, they referred 570 investigated cases of voter fraud to prosecutors. That was a tiny fraction compared to the millions of North Carolinians who voted in those years.

And more than 80% of that small number of cases were convicted felons trying to vote. In North Carolina, people have their voting rights suspended until their felony sentence is completed, including probation or parole. Bartlett said nearly all of these cases involve people not trying to act maliciously, and prosecutions are extremely rare.

He cited other examples, like older citizens who forget they’ve already voted.

"It happens. But it is rare, and very, very, very few times is it enough to impact the election winner," Bartlett said.

Bartlett also said the North Carolina State Board of Elections would likely have caught a double vote by the same person in its review of voting data after the election. And double voting that includes absentee ballots can be undone.

"Voting by mail or early in-person absentee voting, those ballots are retrievable. So only one vote counted for [Becht]," Bartlett said.

For Becht’s double vote, he believed pestering by him, his wife, and eventually by reporters was what alerted election officials to his double vote. Becht said his first vote finally showed up on the State Board of Election's website around 6:30 p.m. the evening of Election Day.

The Union County Board of Elections sent him a letter on last Friday saying it was aware that he had double voted and it would challenge one of his votes. If that voter challenge goes through, only one vote would stand.

Becht said he’s fine with the challenge, as long as one of them counts. He's an inexperienced voter — the only other election he voted in was 2008 — and now, for this election, he had questions.

"What happened on the first time?" Becht said. "Why wasn’t that information updated sooner? And how did your system allow me to vote again?"

The Union County Board of Elections will meet on Friday for its canvass meeting to hear voter challenges and certify the election results. The board will hear the details of Becht’s case, and decide what to do with his double vote.

Becht said he doesn’t plan on attending.

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