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Politics

Former Mecklenburg Commissioner Finds Evidence Of 19 Voters Who Cast Ballots With Outdated Addresses

SouthPark Mall
Coleen Harry
/
WFAE
At least one man who registered to vote in Mecklenburg County said he lives at SouthPark Mall.

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.

If not for the seriousness of the issue he is raising, Matthew Ridenhour might have had a good laugh at what he found on the Mecklenburg County voter registration list.

One man says his address is 4400 Sharon Road, #531 Charlotte, NC 28211. The problem? That’s SouthPark Mall.

“I used to work in SouthPark, and so I know what it's like to be a mall rat feeling like you're spending all your time at the mall,” Ridenhour said. "But that doesn't mean that it's your home of residence.”

At least three voters in the county list their address as 6241 South Blvd., Charlotte. The address exists. It’s the United States Post Office Starmount Station.

And then there’s The Colony apartment complex in Charlotte. The apartments are no longer there. They were cleared away to make way for new development now under construction. The property owner says residents from the old complex moved out in Dec. 2019. But at least 15 residents still have that address on their voter registration.

That baffles Ridenhour, he says, because “those streets no longer physically exist on the planet.”

Mecklenburg County Board of Elections records show these 19 people voted with addresses where they don’t live.

Ridenhour, a Republican, lost the race for the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners District 5 seat in south Charlotte by 2,564 votes. He’s raising a red flag about what he says he’s uncovered: some voters who cast ballots in the general election are registered with incorrect addresses.

“The point of it was not to say the results of my election were wrong and I should have won or anything like that,” said Ridenhour, a former county commissioner who served from 2012-2018. “It's really that I have found some errors and problems, and I feel like they need to be brought to light in order to get fixed for future election security on voter roll integrity.”

US Post Office - Starmount
Coleen Harry
At least three people who registered to vote in Mecklenburg County said this Starmount Station post office branch is their home address.

The voter registration list “is as accurate as it can possibly get,” says Michael Dickerson, the director of Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. He says his office follows procedures in state law to update the list. In addition, Dickerson says voters have to do their part to keep the list updated.

“That's the problem with registration. You moved. Did you change your address with the Board of Elections? I have no idea. Unless you tell me, I have no idea if you've moved,” Dickerson said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Laura Meier, a Democrat who defeated Ridenhour, worries the small number of address inaccuracies being raised in the county will undermine faith in the elections.

“I’m sure people are gonna start to doubt and not have confidence in the system," Meier said. "But the fact is, I do have confidence in the system."

Ridenhour said his concerns don’t involve malicious intent. In fact, he said his research into voter addresses started while he was campaigning. Using the voter registration database, Ridenhour said he mailed approximately 3,000 handwritten postcards to voters in his district, which has 126,706 registered voters. The United States Postal Service returned 92 cards.

“So I started collecting them when I first started getting them back because I thought, 'This is kind of strange that I'm getting so many of these cards back' because the addresses I got were straight from the voter database, so they should have been current and accurate and so forth,” Ridenhour said. “After the election, I started looking at them a little more closely. As I started looking at this, I started seeing these folks had voted. I went and also double-checked that the addresses were correct and so forth. They're properly addressed.”

That revelation led Ridenhour and his campaign volunteers to continue scrutinizing the database. He filed an election protest, and when the county elections board met to certify the election on Nov. 13, Ridenhour told board members about the 25 people still using the address of the demolished Colony apartment complex. He also raised questions about absentee mail-in ballots that didn’t have full addresses.

In a vote of 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats in the majority, the board dismissed the protest. At the time of the vote, board Chair Carol Hill Williams said Ridenhour didn’t present any evidence. And she said there was no proof that voters with old addresses didn’t update their addresses during early voting.

“There was nothing to confirm there was any obscurities or anything that took place that was inaccurate or inadequate for this election,” Williams said. “It just didn’t.”

Ridenhour appealed the dismissal to the State Board of Elections. He said state elections officials also rejected his complaints and reiterated that voters could have updated their address registration.

“The whole process has been really disappointing,” Ridenhour said. “I’m not looking to overturn the results of the election. This really has nothing to do with my District 5 race except that the District 5 race led me to uncover all of this stuff. I would think that we would all, regardless of party affiliation, be on board with the idea of making sure our voter rolls are up to date, are current so that every properly cast, every legally cast ballot is counted and none other.”

Ridenhour continued researching addresses in his district after the boards dismissed his protest. He says he and his campaign volunteers found 47 residents who voted with wrong addresses, including the South Boulevard Post Office address, SouthPark Mall, and the old Colony apartments.

A month after the election, the state’s voter search page shows some of the addresses Ridenhour brought to light have been updated. Of the 25 voters who had an address at the old Colony apartments, five now have new residences listed. At least five more appear to have voted absentee via email — likely because they are in the armed services.

WFAE was unable to reach the voters with the post office address as well as the man who lists SouthPark Mall as his residence. One possible explanation is the addresses could be used by homeless voters. In North Carolina, homeless people are allowed to register to vote at any address where they can receive mail.

State election officials say the voter registration database is updated every Saturday. Of the 15 who voted with old Colony apartment complex addresses, according to State Board of Elections records, 12 cast ballots in person during early voting, and three voted by mail.

The three who mailed their ballots each sent an online request for an absentee by-mail ballot, says Dickerson. Election officials mailed the ballots to addresses in Missouri, Florida, and South Carolina.

Ridenhour believes what he’s finding is just a snapshot of what might be a countywide problem. For him, there are lingering questions: how many more voter registrations have problems? Is the county board of elections doing anything to clean up the voter list?

“The problem with having outdated voter rolls is if there is a bad actor out there — I mean, we talked for years about Russian collusion and servers and emails and 30,000 emails and all that kind of stuff,” Ridenhour said. “What if all it takes to affect an election is knowing who has moved and therefore is least likely to contest if a vote is placed in there?"

Meier said she doesn't think the mistakes are reflective of widespread fraud, however.

“Are there going to be some wrong addresses and somebody put SouthPark Mall as their address or there's an address that's not real?” Meier said. “There’s going to be instances like that that might fall through the cracks, but I don't think it's widespread. I don't think it's a problem with our board of elections. And I believe that if people are using wrong addresses and it becomes like it's a big issue and it actually does change the outcome of an election, I have confidence the board of elections is going to catch that because that's what they do. That's their job. That's what they're there for.”

Voter registration fraud is a felony, and any registered voter can challenge another voter’s registration. State law says a person has to present specific evidence to challenge a registration based on an address.

Gannon said the board investigates “credible evidence of voter registration fraud and will refer cases to prosecutors when warranted by the evidence.”

When asked about Ridenhour’s concerns about “bad actors,” Gannon said, “We have a robust voter list maintenance process that removes individuals on a routine basis who move out of state, die, are convicted of a felony or otherwise become ineligible. These processes must comply with various state and federal laws and court orders to ensure voters are not removed improperly.”

Counties also have a mail verification process. When a resident registers to vote, his or her name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number, and last four numbers of the Social Security number are required. Election workers verify the person’s identity and then mail a voter card. Gannon said if the “mailings get returned as undeliverable, the person’s voter registration is denied.”

“We do everything that is prescribed by the North Carolina general statutes to keep our registration list as accurate, as clean as possible,” Dickerson said.

Voters who move within their cities and counties who don’t report their address change are especially problematic for registration lists, Dickerson said.

“It’s impossible for me to go and knock on the door at every apartment building and say who lives here," he said. "That, hence, is why you use the United States Postal Service to do these things. They deliver the mail. If that mail does not come back to me, it's considered delivered."

In a county with 792,076 registered voters, Dickerson said nearly 40,000 people updated their addresses during early voting and same-day voting. He said his office is not notified when apartment buildings are torn down.

“I have no idea. I have not the ability to drive around and cancel registrations because I see an apartment building torn down, or a home torn down,” he said.

What about people using a mall or post office street address to register to vote?

“No, no, no,” Dickerson said. “They need to list to me where they are, where they reside, where they are a resident. That is a requirement in voter registration.”

Meier said she had a few mailings she sent to voters during the campaign returned to her. While she’s open to looking at ways county officials can help the board of elections with staffing and resources to help keep the voter registration list 100% accurate, she does not believe voters can be excused from their responsibility.

“No law says you have to go to your board of elections and change your address when you move. There's no law that says that,” Meier said. “Now, there's a law that says you have to live where you say you live. But the board of elections cannot say you have to change your address; it’s individual responsibility.”

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