It ironic that at a time when elections, at least in North Carolina, are undoubtedly the safest, most secure and most accurate they’ve ever been, fears of election fraud and tampering are rampant.
Election fears result primarily from the rantings of ousted former President Donald Trump who gracelessly refused to accept defeat and made outlandish accusations of election fraud while he himself attempted to “find” votes and rig the system. As hundreds of Republican candidates around the nation echo Trump’s false claims, fears are growing of election disruptions in 2022 and 2024.
In response to that concern, the North Carolina Network for Fair, Safe and Secure Elections, a bi-partisan grassroots group of individuals and organizations, are holding town hall meetings around North Carolina to provide information about the electoral process and to rebuild trust in our voting system.
Henderson County Information Technology Director Mark Seelenbacher vouched for the system recently at a town hall held at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Lots of things keep him up at night, he said, but, ““I’ve got to be honest with you. Election security in North Carolina…isn’t one…. I’ve been in local government and in IT for over 20 years. I’ve worked elections for most of those years, supporting on the IT side. We’ve got a fantastic process.”
The town hall at A-B Tech was one of 14 being held in each of the state’s congressional districts. A 15th was held virtually. Former Republican N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr and former Democratic Charlotte Mayor and Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts are leading the project with support from the North Carolina League of Women Voters and the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame.
At each town hall, panels of local cybersecurity experts, election officials and election law attorneys explain how voting machines and election procedures work and encourage voter questions. North Carolina and three other states, Arizona, Georgia and part of Florida, are also participating. The project was initiated by The Carter Center with a goal of expanding nationwide before the 2024 election.
The A-B Tech panel included Buncombe County’s Board of Elections Chair Jake Quinn and Election Services Director Corinne Duncan and Henderson County’s Board of Elections Chair Charles Medd and Director of Elections Karen Hebb. They described a transparent, redundant system of checks and balances governed by state laws and regulations. The system is designed to make sure every eligible voter has an opportunity to vote while preventing voter fraud, they said.
From Boards of Elections to poll workers, election activities are carried out by bipartisan teams, preventing hyper-partisan actors from gaming the system. Voting machines are backed up by paper ballots. They are not connected to the internet. There is no opportunity for foreign actors or anyone else to tamper with vote counts.
“They’re not connected to anything but a power source and if the power goes off, the batteries kick in,” Medd said.
Voter registration rolls are kept updated and are available online at the State Board of Elections website. Anyone can check to see if they or anyone else is registered to vote and review their voting history.
“Election fraud is very rare,” Quinn said. “One of the reasons it’s so rare in this state is because the checks and balances are so strong. If anyone actually tries to vote multiple times or vote fraudulently, they’ve got to have a pretty good idea that they are going to get caught, that they are going to get prosecuted.”
The state board of elections has an investigative division, Hebb said. Anyone who suspects voter fraud should report it to their local board or directly to the state. If there’s enough evidence, a felony conviction can result.
“I don’t know of anybody who thinks one vote is worth going to prison or having a felony on your record,” she said. “Is there fraud? Probably, but at a very, very small level…. If you commit voter fraud, you are opening yourself up to going to jail.”
In addition to voter fraud, the panel fielded questions about provisionary ballots, absentee ballots and even the possibility of hand-counting ballots.
Provisionary ballots are a failsafe form of voting, Duncan said, offered anytime there is an issue at a location that a poll worker can’t resolve. Elections staff members heavily research those ballots to determine voter eligibility and present them to the local board of elections, which decides whether the ballot is counted.
Absentee ballots must be requested by the voter and returned by the voter with the signatures of two witnesses or a notary, panelists said. All absentee ballots are reviewed by the local elections board before being accepted and, once accepted, the voter rolls are updated to reflect that voter has voted so that he or she cannot attempt to vote again on election day.
Elections board meetings where provisionary and absentee ballots are reviewed are open to the public.
As for returning to hand-counting ballots, Quinn said, “There were 5.5 million ballots cast in the state of North Carolina in the 2020 election. Does anyone have any idea how long it would take to count 5.5 million ballots by hand, understanding that on each ballot you are looking at multiple races? There’s the time factor. Now let’s get to the human factor. I love people, but they are not nearly as adept and accurate at tabulating vast quantities of data as machines that were designed for that task. So, if you want it done accurately and you want it done quickly, we don’t have any alternative that I can see.”
Town halls sponsored by the Network for Fair, Safe and Secure Elections will be held through Oct. 6. A list of locations can be found at nctrustedelections.com or the virtual town hall can be viewed on Reimagining America Project’s YouTube channel. The state board of elections website has a section that contains great information about election security.
The one good thing election deniers have done is shine a light on election integrity. We should all remain vigilant, but these resources provide voters with assurance that our precious right to choose those who lead us is securely and fairly administered in North Carolina.
Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.