Voted already? No problem. Try again …

News reports out of Raleigh indicate the arrest of an 89 year old resident for voting twice in the 2010 elections.  The man says he participated in the state’s early voting process, then showed up at his polling place again on election day.  The suspect said he wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to vote twice in the state’s elections.  He said he told polling place workers that he already voted, but they gave him a ballot and let him vote again, anyway:

Leland Duane Lewis said he had voted only one side of the ballot at an early-voting station at Optimist Park in West Raleigh on Oct. 29. When he later realized what he had done, he went to his regular precinct on Election Day and requested another ballot, which poll workers gave him.

Lewis said he filled out the other side of the ballot and on the way out told poll workers what he had done, assuming they would report it. Lewis said he called the county elections office several times in weeks that followed and left messages to report it himself, but never heard back until Gary Sims, the deputy director of the Board of Elections, called him to say officials had discovered he had voted twice.

“I voted with two ballots, but only once, really,” Lewis said. “Half and half is one.”

Lewis, a registered Republican, said his case illustrates there’s problem. “I think I showed the system is broken,” Lewis said.

But elections officials say that’s just the kind of thing that they catch every election.

Cherie Poucher, the county elections director, said she couldn’t comment on specific cases, other than to say Lewis’ case and that of four registered Democrats who were arrested last week came after the cases were reviewed by the county elections board and the state board, which referred them to prosecutors.

District Attorney Colon Willoughby said at the time that nine arrest warrants had been issued for double voting dating to the 2008 presidential election. The cases do not involve people trying to vote using others’ names, and so would not have been prevented if photo identification were required. Some of those arrested said they were unsure if their first ballots had counted and were told by poll workers they could still vote.

It’s nothing unusual

Willoughby and Poucher have said there are always a handful of voting irregularities referred for prosecution after every election cycle, although there may have been more than usual after the 2008 presidential election because of the higher turnout. But these cases follow a passionate debate over a bill the General Assembly passed this year requiring photo identification at the polls. Legislators failed to override the governor’s veto of the bill, but Republicans have kept it alive for another override attempt later.

Another test in 2008

Lewis, who retired from IBM 25 years ago and has lived in the same house for 45 years, said he tested the system back in 2008. He said he voted early in that election, and then on Election Day, for the heck of it, stopped by his polling place to see if he could vote and was told he could. “No I can’t!” Lewis said he scolded the poll workers, and didn’t cast a second ballot.

Lewis said he didn’t hear anything more until Friday, when a sheriff’s deputy called him to say he had a summons to turn himself in Wednesday. Lewis, who turned 89 on Tuesday, said he was waiting for his son to drive him to the Wake County Public Safety Center on Wednesday, when a Raleigh policeman showed up at his door about 8:30 a.m., arrested him and drove him to jail.

Court records show that a subpoena was issued Friday for Lewis to appear before a magistrate on Monday. On Wednesday, Lewis was booked into the jail and released after posting a $10,000 cash bond. He was ordered to be in court today.

“They’re going to let you vote and then they’re going to catch you,” Lewis said. “When you vote once, the system should know that and you should not vote again. I don’t believe in double votes. That’s not right. But there’s something wrong when they permit that.

“If 10,000 people did what I did, it would be 10,000 more ballots than votes. Stop and think about that one.”

Democrats, and many in the media, are saying that the recently-vetoed voter ID bill would not have helped catch Lewis and the other Wake County voters who were charged:

To look at it another way, the three fraudulent double votes made up less than .00001 – that’s one thousandth of one percent – of Wake County election results in 2008.

No one’s vote was stolen, technically – these folks just voted early AND often, as the old joke goes. But you can certainly argue that their votes offset the legitimate votes of three other voters who made the effort to cast their ballots. And that’s no joke at all.

Voter fraud IS serious at any level – that’s why it’s a felony. If anything, this instance illustrates the  need for better data management in NC elections. Had Wake elections officials been able to keep up with the job of crossing an unprecedented number of early voters off the Election Day rolls, this would not have happened. (The fact that they’re still doing it on paper is pretty amazing in itself.)

But did the three fraudulent voters give Perdue the edge in Wake County? No. And the Voter ID bill she vetoed, whether or not you think it’s a good idea, wouldn’t have caught it, either.

So, the fact that only nine people are charged means that we should not be all that excited about vote fraud?  That is kind of like suggesting that illegal drug use and trafficking is no big deal anymore because we have locked up so many people.  Surely, we have not caught ALL of the offenders. 

The vetoed ID bill probably would not have made any difference here. But how many potential cheaters  would have been stopped or caught if poll workers had been required to check IDs?

The voter ID bill should be brought back up and strengthened, to include the end of early voting and one-stop registration and voting, as well as the implementation of  IDs for absentee ballots and bookkeeping reforms to ensure poll workers have the most accurate information available.  The integrity of our elections is TOO important.  Too much is at stake.