An investigation into suspected fraud in a closely contested House race in North Carolina has shined a spotlight on an increasingly powerful tool in U.S. elections: mail-in ballots. The case in North Carolina’s 9th District, which centers on claims of an aggressive — and illegal — absentee ballot drive by a Republican operative, has resurfaced concerns about the security of mail-in ballots and the potential for fraud. It also raises questions about how vote-by-mail programs should be executed, especially with a growing number of Americans casting their ballots by mail. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of voters who cast mail-in ballots more than tripled, from 2.4 million to 8.2 million, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Despite having been mailed back before the November election, 29 absentee ballots in Northeast Iowa’s House District 55 race — which was decided by a mere nine votes — were never postmarked and therefore cannot be counted, state officials say. But they could have been counted by now if Winneshiek County had availed itself of a safeguard the Iowa Legislature approved two years ago — an “intelligent bar code” that can verify if mailed-in ballots meet the deadline even if they are not postmarked. That safeguard is voluntary, and currently is used by only seven of Iowa’s 99 counties. It adds a few pennies to the cost of each mailed-in ballot, and takes time to set up. But there is no assurance the Postal Service will postmark each letter, and therefore no assurance that absentee votes mailed in on time will ever be counted.
An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting. It’s a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud. The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters — often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full.
A voter photo identification bill won state House approval Wednesday, a proposal now also altered to try to improve absentee ballot security in North Carolina in light of fraud allegations in a congressional district. The House version of legislation detailing how a new constitutional amendment mandating photo ID to vote in person is carried out starting in mid-2019 also directs the state elections board next year to figure out how people requesting mail-in absentee ballots also must offer ID. The measure now returns to the Senate, which approved an earlier version last week that didn’t address the mail-in requests. That was before attention to absentee ballots soared with word that election officials and prosecutors are investigating claims of fraudulent absentee ballot activities in the 9th Congressional District.
North Carolina: Bladen, Robeson Had 3,400 Absentee Ballots That Weren’t Returned. What Happened To Them? | WFAE
In the still un-certified 9th Congressional District race, Bladen and Robeson counties had the two highest rate of unreturned absentee mail-in ballots. Bladen and Robeson also stand out statewide, according to an analysis by Catawba College political science professor Michal Bitzer. He found there were about 19,400 absentee ballots by mail statewide that were requested but not returned for the Nov. 6 election. Robeson had 10 percent of those statewide non-returned ballots, and Bladen County had 8 percent of the non-returned ballots. That’s 3,404 ballots. The two counties make up less than 2 percent of the state’s population.
North Carolina: Certification in limbo in North Carolina House race as fraud investigation continues | The Washington Post
Mounting evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District could indefinitely delay the certification of a winner, as state election officials investigate whether hundreds of absentee ballots were illegally cast or destroyed. The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has no plans to certify Republican Mark Harris’s 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready, according to an agenda of a board meeting scheduled for Friday morning. The board is collecting sworn statements from voters in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, near the South Carolina border, who described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without filling them out. Others described receiving absentee ballots by mail that they had not requested. It is illegal to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.
Nearly 7,000 voters would have had their early ballots rejected over problems with their signatures if Maricopa County hadn’t initiated a new policy of attempting to “cure” those ballots after Election Day. According to data provided to the Arizona Mirror by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, 7,240 early ballots had signatures on their envelopes that required further review after Election Day. The majority of those ballots were dropped off at polling places on Election Day. County election officials began contacting voters who dropped off early ballots on Election Day and whose signatures needed further review on Nov. 8, two days after the election. The outreach effort allowed the county to verify the signatures on 6,933 of the ballots, which was nearly 96 percent of the ballots that election officials reviewed for potentially mismatched signatures.
The chief investigator for the North Carolina Board of Elections took absentee by mail ballot request forms and their return envelopes from Bladen County immediately after the Nov. 6 election, according to the chair of the county’s board of elections. Bobby Ludlum, chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, told WFAE Wednesday that the board’s chief investigator, Joan Fleming, came to Elizabethtown to get the records during the week of the election. “She was here the day after, or around that time,” said Ludlum, a Republican who chairs the county’s board. “I’ve heard rumors and allegations (about what they are looking for) but they haven’t said anything.” Bladen County is in the 9th Congressional District.
A Bucks County judge on Monday dismissed a legal challenge filed in a contested state Senate race that claimed Pennsylvania’s deadline for excluding absentee ballots is unconstitutional. State Rep. Tina Davis filed the lawsuit Nov. 19 after losing the race in the state’s Sixth District to incumbent state Sen. Richard “Tommy” Tomlinson by just 74 votes. However, at least 216 absentee ballots went uncounted because they were received after the deadline but before Election Day, according to the filing. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Davis did not provide an explanation for his ruling Monday, which came hours after a hearing on the issue in Doylestown. Under his order, the absentee ballots in the race will remained sealed, despite attempts by Davis’ campaign to view a list of the voters who had submitted them.
Mississippi: Civil rights lawsuit claims Mississippi made it nearly impossible to vote by absentee ballot | Salon
A civil rights group is suing top officials in Mississippi for giving voters very little time to cast absentee ballots in Tuesday’s special runoff Senate election, making it nearly impossible for some votes to be counted. Democrat Mike Espy faces appointed Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Tuesday after neither received a majority of the vote in the November 6 election. According to a federal lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, election officials did not send absentee ballots for the run-off until Nov. 17. Many out-of-state voters did not receive the ballots until Thanksgiving time. Under state law, absentee ballots must have been submitted by Monday, Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots in the state must also be notarized, which means many voters had just one business day to get the ballot stamped and delivered to their county elections office, Mississippi Today reported. “Mississippi’s absentee ballot procedures stand out as some of the most burdensome in this country,” the lawsuit says, accusing the state of violating the Constitution.