Fact Check: Can You Commit Voter Fraud In NC With Info From A Phone Book?

Feb 5, 2020

You won’t need an ID to cast a ballot next month for the primaries in North Carolina. A federal judge blocked that 2018 law until a court could decide whether it was constitutional. Speaking about that decision, state Rep. Holly Grange, a Republican running for governor, said that makes it easy to impersonate a voter.

N.C. Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover
Credit NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Speaking to a Military Officers Association event last month, she said, “All they have to do is look a name up in a phone book.” Paul Specht of WRAL joins WFAE Morning Edition host Lisa Worf to assess Grange’s claim.

Lisa Worf: First, what did Grange mean by that exactly?

Paul Specht: Well, we reached out to her and asked, because we weren't sure if she was implying that someone could get away with voter fraud just using a phone book. And she said, no, that's not what she meant. She meant that in theory, someone could look up in a phonebook, put their finger on a name and an address, and then go to that person's precinct and say that they are that person, which is possible. Anyone could do that. But to imply that that is something that anyone could get away with is definitely off base.

Worf: Why is that so off base? How do you not get away with that?

Specht: So, the biggest and best failsafe is the fact that if you're impersonating someone, there's no way to know if they've voted yet. If you show up and say that you're someone else, and it turns out they've already voted, then you're thwarted, and the election officials take notice. They'd mark down, "Oh, you know, this person voted twice." Or, you know, if they didn't do it in the moment, that record would get back to the state Board of Elections, and they have an entire division dedicated to busting voter fraud.

Worf: What if that person who someone is trying to impersonate hasn't voted and they don't? Are they able to be caught?

Specht: In theory, someone could show up with a name and address of someone else — that person hasn't voted yet, you cast a fraudulent ballot, and the real voter never shows up, and it goes undetected. In theory. The state Board of Elections says that's very, very rare. In fact, in the 2016 election, there were only two cases of voter impersonation, and only one of them was in person. The other was by a mail ballot.

Worf: What kind of other information comes into play when you're voting — personal information?

Specht: So, before you go impersonate someone — and I hate to sound like I'm giving advice because I'm definitely not — but to ensure that you could get away with it, you would likely need to be the same race and sex of that person. It's possible a precinct worker might know the voter you're trying to impersonate and so, you know, if I show up as as Lisa Worf, that would not work.

If I show up at someone much older, that might not work because coworkers have access to each voters' birth date and their race, and they are by no means trained to profile anyone. That's not how it works. They hand out the ballot, and then those details come into play later. If the state board needs to open an inquiry.

Worf: Now, the phone book is one example, but you can look up names at the state Board of Elections website and get information like addresses, gender, race. How does that factor into this scenario?

Specht: That's something that the Board of Elections is obviously aware of. They put that tool out there on their website — the voter lookup tool. But they say they have fail safes in place that would detect large scale fraud like that.

Worf: So, how did you rate this one?

Specht: As you can tell from all the explanations, this is a hypothetical where there's a lot to explain, and so in this case, we decided it's best not to give it a rating because we don't know.

There're so many factors to be taken into consideration. If you were to take someone else's name and address to the poll and try to get away with voter fraud, there's several ways you could get caught. But it's also possible, although unlikely, that you wouldn't. So, we're leaving the Truth-O-Meter out of this one.

Democratic N.C. Sen. Erica Smith
Credit NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Worf: OK. Let's turn to another claim now — a tweet from state Sen. Erica Smith, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate. In that tweet, she pledged that she hasn't taken political action committee money since her 2016 state Senate run. Is that the case?

Specht: It's not. And that tweet that you're mentioning is a little jumbled, so if people were to go look for it, it's not one long, concise sentence — there are some emojis in there and a checkmark and a "no-PAC pledge," as she calls it. But it's true that she hasn't taken any money from corporate PACs, which are political action committees that businesses can form. We found none for this U.S. Senate run, but it is inaccurate for her to claim that she hasn't taken any since 2016.

In fact, she took a check from CSX Corp. as recently as Jan. 2019. That was about a month before she launched her U.S. Senate campaign. Then if you look back at 2018, you can see donations from PACs for Merck, Duke Energy — Merck is a pharmaceutical company — the Homebuilders Association and other big businesses. And that trend does date back to 2016.

Worf: How much did she take from these PACs?

Specht: The News & Observer estimated that she took $13,000 from PACs between 2016 and the launch of her U.S. Senate campaign.

Worf: And what was her response, then, to this?

Specht: We don't get many of these, but her response to us was sort of an apology of sorts. She admitted the error and said that she was wrong. She claimed that her Twitter account was run by staffers who overstated the length of her no-PAC pledge.

Worf: So, the rating on this?

Specht: It's a straight false. The records are there, easily accessible, and then, obviously, she acknowledged that it was an overstatement. So, this one was pretty easy for us.

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