Many Republican lawmakers are feeling vindicated in their efforts to pass more restrictive voting measures now that reports of thousands of cases of potential voter fraud have emerged.
Following a cross-check with information from 28 other states, election officials announced Wednesday that they had identified 35,570 people whose first and last names, as well as birth dates, matched those in other states, according to WRAL. Seven hundred sixty-five cases were found where the first name, last name, birth date and last four digits of social security numbers matched.
Republicans now see the new numbers as evidence that stricter voting laws do need to be put in place to combat this severe problem of voting irregularity.
Those who are eager to jump on this new revelation as a justification for new voting policies should be careful about doing so. The numbers have not been thoroughly investigated yet to see what the actual prevalence of voter fraud is.
The report with these findings is preliminary, and officials plan to look more deeply into the data to see what the level of fraud actually is.
In any event, there are other factors that could easily influence the numbers. The incidence of individuals with the same names and birth dates is higher than might be expected.
Researchers Michael D. McDonald and Justin Levitt pointed out in a 2007 study that, given a “sufficiently large population,” matches among names and birth dates are quite common. Certainly a 28-state sample would constitute a sufficiently large population.
Of course, there are additional possibilities of errors by precinct officials and other potential mistakes unrelated to voter fraud that must be investigated. Perhaps more important than the numbers and what causes them is the idea that voting policies enacted recently would help this problem.
The idea that requiring voter identification at polling places will put a dent into voter fraud does not address the reality of how voter fraud occurs – when it does occur. Since the laws only affect voters at polling places, the possibility for fraud in absentee ballots still remains.
A 2012 report by the organization News 21 showed that absentee voting fraud accounted for about 24 percent of all voter fraud, the largest of any category of voter fraud. In North Carolina, the biggest problem was casting an ineligible ballot, an offense that would not be prevented by photo identification.
Overall, the News 21 investigation only found 22 cases of voter fraud in the state since 2000.
Further investigation will obviously be needed and should be conducted to find out exactly what accounts for the numbers. But given the past evidence on voting fraud, it does not seem likely that any astronomical rate of voter fraud is going on in North Carolina.
Certainly it is too soon for anyone to justify policy around the current results.
Kevin Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.