When it comes to political discussions on the pervasiveness and power of voter fraud, truth really is the first casualty.
Democrats will argue that election fraud hardly exists at all, and that there isn’t any hard evidence that tainted votes are changing the outcomes of elections. But Republicans overplay their hand, arguing that voter fraud is orchestrated and rampant, election results can’t be trusted, and stricter election laws approved last year by the GOP-led General Assembly and then signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory were needed to restore integrity.
Here is the truth: Elections laws in this country have been historically lax and occasionally abused, and while we don’t worry that tainted ballots will decide who is president, governor or your congressman, local elections, during which a couple of dozen to a few hundred ballots are cast and winning margins are often thin, are vulnerable.
In Robeson County the evidence can be found in two elections — a 2007 race for Lumberton City Council and the 2013 Pembroke Town Council election. In both cases, allegations of fraud were sufficient that do-over elections were ordered, and each time the second election in no way matched the results of the first.
We accept that Robeson County, with its ill-informed and easy-to-manipulate electorate, might be an outlier and not the best example to offer in defense of tougher election laws. But we also struggle to understand what’s the big deal with new election laws that shorten early voting by only a third and require a voter ID beginning in 2016.
Voting is more than a right; it is also a civic duty. And anyone who can’t find time to cast a ballot or secure a free ID from the state is failing that civics test.
The news that the state Board of Elections has asked the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office to conduct an investigation of possible voter fraud in all the municipal elections that were held this past November is further evidence that the problem is not imagined. Erich Hackney, a criminal investigator and a Lumberton councilman, is leading the investigation, which promises to be lengthy. The DA’s Office is asking any residents who might have evidence of voter fraud, including being intimidated to vote or paid to do so, to come forward and provide that information.
The investigation will be ongoing during the main event, the May 6 primary, when the motivation for election fraud and the opportunity through extensive hauling of voters are both greater. We hope that it acts as a deterrent — and that Robesonians who appropriately cast their ballots don’t have to worry about them being illegally nullified.