An election may have been stolen in North Carolina. While evidence continues to be gathered, officials are investigating whether a paid Republican campaign contractor collected mail-in ballots from likely Democratic voters and never turned them in, possibly changing the result of the election. It’s a crisis of democracy: State election officials told a hearing Monday that North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was subject to a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” orchestrated by a GOP operative.
Here’s my question: Where is the voter fraud crowd? You know, the folks who cry “crime” when two people named John Smith vote in the same state? Their silence in the face of seemingly serious election fraud reveals their fundamental bad faith and hucksterism.
I served with many of the celebrities of the voter fraud pack when I joined President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in 2017. I had hoped to be a voice for reason and data-driven reform. Instead of cooperation, the Republican leaders of the commission excluded me entirely, while posturing that they were on the trail of massive voter fraud — maybe even big enough to explain Trump’s 2.8-million vote loss in the national popular vote. Although the commission claimed to seek the truth about voter fraud, it fought bitterly to keep its work and results secret from its own members and from the public.
I fought back and won. When a court ordered the commission to share documents with me, Trump disbanded the commission. Last June, after an eight-month court battle, a federal judge ordered the commission to provide me with its working records. Even today, the case remains in the courts as the Department of Justice is still fighting to withhold some of those records.
The documents that were released reveal the truth: Contrary to statements by the White House and Republican commission members such as Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, the commission uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
That didn’t stop Kobach, though. He disputed my view that voter fraud is infinitesimally rare, claiming without evidence that I was “willfully blind” to fraud “in front of [my] nose,” and spread baseless but dire warnings of a vast national crisis. He and two other commission members — J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky — have asserted that the trifling number of prosecutions for actual voter misconduct represented only a fraction of the total.
The absence of evidence did nothing to quiet their alarm. Last summer, Kobach and his compatriots finally had the chance to argue their case for voter fraud before a federal court considering whether to invalidate a law requiring Kansans to present proof of citizenship to register to vote. Von Spakovsky was an “expert” witness. While Kobach claimed the few instances of fraud were “the tip of the iceberg,” the judge, a George W. Bush appointee, concluded that “there is no iceberg; only an icicle largely created by confusion and administrative error.” Despite this resounding defeat, Kobach continues to rely on the same discredited statistics, and voter fraud remains a top-line GOP concern.
Now that North Carolina is investigating what could be systematic election theft, you’d think people so committed to seeing fraud where it doesn’t exist would be sounding the alarm. What’s alleged in North Carolina’s 9th District is not an occasional individual registering to vote when she is ineligible, but a sustained program to steal the votes of others. (An attorney for the Republican operative at the center of the investigation, Leslie McCrae Dowless, said Dowless “has not violated any state or federal campaign laws and current ongoing investigations will prove the same.”)
Yet these self-styled “guardians of election integrity” are largely silent. Kobach says he is “concerned,” but hasn’t called for any additional action; our former commission colleague von Spakovsky is taking the dubious position that the North Carolina experience vindicates his to-date unproved claims of widespread voter fraud. Despite Trump’s unfounded claims that “millions” of people voted illegally, costing him the 2016 popular vote, the president, too, has remained silent.
The news out of North Carolina is certainly distressing, but elements are also heartening. This incident verifies the response that I and others have long made to assertions of the voter-fraud vampire hunters: At the individual voter level, fraud is so rare that it effectively does not exist.
What appears to have happened in North Carolina is a different problem: an organized and willful effort to tamper with ballots. Not voter fraud, but election fraud. This scheme tested North Carolina’s election integrity system, including chain of custody protections and other checks and balances — and that system succeeded. After all, the discrepancy was discovered through the due diligence of election officials. Although the extent and effect of possible malfeasance in the 2018 elections has yet to be determined, voters in North Carolina should feel reassured that any attempt to rig a future election will be detected — and its perpetrators pursued to the fullest extent of the law.
No matter which candidate is eventually seated in the House from North Carolina, we have learned something else: We never, ever need to listen to the voter fraud charlatans again. They created a vivid voter fraud fantasy, conjuring up busloads of illegal immigrants or college students stealing seats from upright, patriotic Republicans and delivering them to undeserving Democrats across the nation. The truth is, the myth of voter fraud is nothing more than a ploy to justify laws that make it significantly harder for racial minorities and the poor, constituencies that often lean toward Democrats, to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The commitment to this fiction, rather than to the facts and the evidence, has left them blind to and uninterested in confronting the real fraud occurring right before our eyes.
Matthew Dunlap, a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is Maine’s secretary of state.