News 13 Investigates: Voter fraud case in Buncombe County
Your information might be used to help someone else illegally register to vote.
It's happened to one Buncombe County woman and it may be happening to more.
With over 300,000 new voters joining the state's electorate since January 1, 2018, News 13 investigates the safeguards in the registration process.
So far in 2018, the state has removed 10,000 people from the voter database because they're not eligible to vote for a variety of reasons. Among the reasons were failed mail verification, but that process relies heavily on you and your neighbor to help catch mistakes.
The strange card in the mail
“It had to be a mistake because we've lived here so long,” said Linda Raines, a Buncombe County resident.
A postcard most of us might have thrown out if found in our mailbox caught the foster parent’s attention.
“It made me angry, because that's just wrong,” Raines said.
The name on the card isn't one of her kids or anyone else who lives at their home.
“And won't be anytime soon, either, they've never been here. I don't know this person,” Raines said.
Whoever Sam Keiran is, the name on the voter registration card Raines received is now registered to vote in Buncombe County, using Linda's address.
Concerned, Linda called the Buncombe County Elections Office.
“The guy at elections said to return it to sender,” Raines said.
But there was one problem with the advice.
“But he said he hadn't sent it to me,” Raines said.
“It has to be voter fraud. It's the only thing that I can think of,” Raines added.
Raines posted her situation on WLOS' Facebook page.
How can a mix-up like this happen?
If you weren't aware, short of the Department of Motor Vehicles, most people register to vote through the mail, never setting foot, in their local county election office.
“The whole process is a by-mail, verification process, in addition to voters giving us their driver's license numbers or their last four digits of their social security,” said Trena Velez, Buncombe County Elections Director.
But that's where Sam Keiran's application comes up short.
Tracking the application back, according to elections, “Sam” used a federal voter registration form from vote.gov, mailed to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh to register. The state forwards the applications to individual counties, where they're opened, processed, and two pieces of information are checked for accuracy.
“That driver's license number or those last four digits, our database is bounced up against if you will, the driver's license database or the social security database along with that name. If anything does not match it gets kicked back to us and says, 'Hey, there's a problem,” said Velez.
Sam's Social Security number didn't match. But the process statewide is to issue the voter registration, with a warning and the card Linda got, letting whoever “Sam” is know that they'd need to show an ID in order to vote.
“There's a long process that we have to go through before we can take someone off the roles, so the more information someone can give about something like that, the sooner it starts the process,” Velez said.
This is where you, the public, can help curb voter fraud and this story circles back to what Linda was told.
Here's what happens if you don't.
“If you do throw it in the trash, which most people do, don't know that guy, file 13, then we think he got it and we think he's still there,” Velez said.
That's right, whoever “Sam” is continues to be registered at Linda's address.
“Yes, I think I'll write on there, does not live here, return to sender,” Raines said after News 13 gave her back the card she’d shared.
Linda is relieved there's a catch, “That is kind of relieving that there is a catch to this, that someone would have probably caught it, but I didn't know that until you told me,” Raines said.
The elections office urges anyone who gets one of these cards to look at the information and react if it's not correct.
“We can't stop people from making mistakes. We can't control that world out there. What we can control is the seriousness with which we take the verification of that information,” Velez said.
Determined not to allow someone who shouldn’t be registered to vote to remain registered at her home, Linda was headed back to the mailbox, card in hand.
“We're only supposed to have one vote for one person, so this is someone trying to do something they shouldn't be doing,” Raines said.
News 13 searched for “Sam” using several different background tools, but came up empty.
The end result
The State Elections office launched their own investigation and also could not confirm that Sam Keiran has a legal residence in North Carolina. They’re recommending that Buncombe County’s elections office begin one of the two different procedures in the state to remove someone from the list of registered voters.
Here in the mountains, the deadline to register to vote is October 12. It was extended to October 15th for 28 counties to the south and east as a result of Hurricane Florence.
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Voting Resources Here
You can check the North Carolina State Elections Board website to see if you're currently registered to vote.
If you need to register to vote you can also find an application to register at North Carolina State Board of Elections website.
Here are some other instances of voter fraud the State Board of Elections have found in other NC counties.
Investigators at the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement are reviewing alleged misconduct by individuals conducting voter registration drives in several North Carolina counties.
The agency received reports from New Hanover, Pitt and Robeson counties that individuals misinformed voters that they must re-register in order to cast a ballot in November. Voters who are already registered do not have to re-register or update their registrations unless they have moved or wish to change their name or party affiliation.
The State Board office has also received reports that individuals have approached people at their homes or businesses, falsely identifying themselves as county or state elections workers. In recent months, the agency also has investigated reports of falsified registration documents delivered to county boards of elections offices.
“Voters should check their registrations online,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement. “There is no reason to submit a new form unless the information is outdated.”
“The State Board will investigate all credible allegations of voter registration fraud by individuals or organizations,” Strach continued. “When workers involved in voter drives falsify or alter information on registration forms, it can cause problems for innocent voters at the polls.”
It is unlawful in North Carolina to pay voter drive participants on a per-form basis. It is a Class I felony to falsify a voter registration form and a Class 2 misdemeanor to retain a copy of a registrant’s confidential information, such as date of birth or driver license number.
The State Board encourages voters to consider the following tips:
- Check your voter registration status through the State Board’s “Voter Search” tool here, the link is listed above in this story under resources.
- If you are not registered or need to update your registration, applications are available on the State Board website and at all county boards of elections offices.
- Always ask voter registration workers to verify their identities and their organizations before providing any information. If an individual refuses to comply, do not provide any information and call the State Board office immediately at 919-814-0700 and ask for the Investigations Division.
- If you fill out a registration form as part of a registration drive, you may personally return the form to your county board of elections, either in person or by mail. You do not have to give the form back to the voter drive worker.
- County and state elections officials do not go door-to-door. If a person claims to be a state or county elections worker, ask them for identification, take down their name and contact the State Board office immediately at 919-814-0700.