Fact Check: McConnell Uses 9th District Race To Criticize Democrats On Election Security

Mar 13, 2019

On this week’s fact check of current politics, we’re not looking at statements made by a North Carolina politician, but by U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Ballot fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional Race made an impression on him. He spoke about it on the Senate floor last month.

“For years and years, every Republican who dared to call for safeguards for Americans ballots was demonized by Democrats and their allies. We were hit by left-wing talking points that voter fraud wasn’t real.”

Credit C-Span2

But he said North Carolina’s case shows voter fraud is real. Paul Specht of the Raleigh News and Observer joined “Morning Edition” host Lisa Worf to unpack McConnell’s statement.

Lisa Worf: So, Paul, the 9th District’s investigation focused on alleged ballot harvesting. In this case, a Republican political operative collecting absentee ballots. What does McConnell’s statement have to do with that?

Paul Specht: McConnell was on the Senate floor talking about a bill called HR 1. It was the first bill the Democrats proposed since they gained the majority in the U.S. House. And so he was upset that this HR 1, which aims to make voting easier, doesn't include anything to address ballot harvesting.

Lisa Worf: He talks about the safeguards. What kind of safeguards is he talking about that Republicans have called for?

[Related Content: Mitch McConnell On NC Ballot Harvesting: Why Is It Legal In California?]

Specht: Well you know his speech was vague. It was very vague. He makes lots of vague references to, you know, bills of yore that Republicans sponsored or pushed. But he doesn't identify one clearly in this speech. When we reached out to him we noted that Vox and The Washington Post and other media outlets leaped to the conclusion that he was referring to voter I.D. But as McConnell's spokesperson pointed out, he never mentioned voter I.D. In his speech. So we asked them, what are you referring to?

They mentioned the National Voter Registration Act from 1993 which was also known as the "motor voter bill." That was a Democratic bill that McConnell opposed because he thought it would lead to more fraud but it didn't address absentee ballots.

And then there was the Help America Vote Act of 2002. That was a Republican bill and it was passed to sort of shore up election machine security if you will. There's a lot of doubt over just the safety and the accuracy of our voting methods after Bush vs. Gore, you know, and the famous hanging chads. But that again didn't have anything to do with absentee ballots, witnessing or who is allowed to collect the absentee ballots.

Worf: So with a vague speech like this, how do you rate this as far as actually true?

Credit Paul Specht

Specht: You know in this case. We didn't rate it because his speechwriters whether — intentionally or not — were able to avoid making a direct claim. This is a story on our Web site that just says that his claims are misleading. They give the impression that this legislation in HR 1 would lead to more things like North Carolina's election fraud. And it also gives the impression that Republicans have warned about this for years.

Ultimately, McConnell's office e-mailed us back after we pressed them again and again for proof that they warned about absentee ballot fraud. They said well, you know it's a relatively new issue and previous bills don't mention it at all or don't address it at all.

Worf: And the bill that finally passed the House, did Democrats have any mention of ballot harvesting in that version?

Specht: No, it does not mention ballot harvesting or ballot collecting or ballot witnessing.

Worf: McConnell also said in that speech last month that once political operatives take hold of ballots the voters have no real way to keep tabs on whether they're ever delivered. Now, that's illegal in North Carolina. But if you're worried about your absentee ballot being counted here, is there a way to track that?

Specht: Yes, there is. McConnell makes it seem like you'll never know if your ballot is delivered or if it's counted. And that's simply not true. We reached out to the North Carolina elections board and they told us that during election season they get information from county elections boards and they actively update a database, showing who has requested an absentee ballot, whether or not that ballot has been delivered and then whether or not that ballot has been turned in. And during election season, you can go to their web site and then click on the voter lookup tool and type in your name. You can see a page with all your information and at the bottom, it has a place where you can check out absentee voting or absentee requests. During election season and during the voting time, you can click on this arrow and it will tell you whether or not your ballot was turned in.

Worf: And how do you know that that is indeed your ballot that's been turned in?

Specht: That's one thing that McConnell's office tried to push back on actually. They said you know well what if you get a ballot in the mail and then you give it to someone and they switch it out? That's almost impossible, the election board told us. Each ballot that's sent out has an ID number and has special markings that are meant to track your ballot. And so it's extremely hard to duplicate.

And then when you do turn it in it's not just plugged into a machine. People look at it, you know precinct officials, poll workers — they look at each ballot for inconsistencies in the signatures of witnesses and for inconsistencies in these markings that are on each ballot. So, the elections board told us it is almost impossible to duplicate the type of ballots they send out to absentee voters. So. That is not something people should spend time worrying about. 

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.