Even though Gov. Pat McCrory (R) ultimately lost his re-election bid, Republican legislators – with a veto-proof majority – may still seize on his allegations of widespread voter fraud to push for new voting restrictions next year.
“We have a very strong suspicion that the purpose of all of these challenges and allegations of irregularities, at least for the last three of the last four weeks, haven’t really been about McCrory winning. They’ve been about building a ‘record’ for the legislature in the next session, passing more voter restriction laws,” Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice which advocates for voting rights, told TPM.
Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, agreed that Republicans were “setting this up for the next legislative session … to kind of poison the well to make things look like there was more need for more restrictions.”
Republican leaders in North Carolina have left hints that this could be coming. In his Monday concession video, McCrory mentioned that there are “continued questions” about “the voting process” that must be answered. North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (pictured above) issued a statement Monday indicating that he would like to address “problems” with the election system.
“Gov. McCrory leaves a tremendous positive legacy for our state and deserves a great deal of credit for graciously conceding an election that brought much-needed attention to the potential for fraud, and other weaknesses, in our state’s election system. We will work with Gov.-elect Cooper to address these problems and to make certain voters have confidence in the outcome of future elections,” Berger said in the statement.
Many of the ballot complaints filed by Republicans following the November election were dismissed by election boards, all of which have Republican majorities. In most of the complaints, Republicans alleged that ballots were cast by people who were dead, who were felons, or who had voted in another state.
“They were all pretty much discredited,” Gerry Cohen, an elections law expert and former special counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly, told TPM.
Cohen said it appears that some felons did vote and that some people who voted by mail died before Election Day, but said those cases do not amount to voter fraud.
However, Republicans do not seem concerned that the flurry of complaints did not uncover widespread fraud as they had predicted.
In an interview with TPM, Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, acknowledged that Republicans “turned out not to be right” on some of their complaints. But he noted that their efforts did result in some ballots being tossed, and he said that Republicans will still focus on voter fraud “even if it is small, and even if it doesn’t affect the outcome of the race.”
“We have a good system. It produced a legitimate winner in Governor-Elect Cooper. But I think we have a responsibility to all the voters to continue try to find ways to improve it,” Woodhouse told TPM.
He said Republicans “will work to root out illegitimate, fraudulent, felonious voting, whether or not it is necessarily dispositive in any one race.”
Yet when asked if there was “widespread” voter fraud, Woodhouse wouldn’t say.
“I think widespread is a definition under the beholder,” he told TPM. “I think you cannot say we did not find voter fraud. You cannot also say that the election was determined by voter fraud and stolen.”
In an interview with the New Republic published last week, Woodhouse suggested that it does not matter if fraud was widespread.
“Whether there’s widespread voter fraud or not,” he told the New Republic, “the people believe there is.”
Hall said that the rhetoric from Republicans about voter fraud overall is effective even if their allegations are bogus.
“It’s one of these things, if you say a lie over and over again, people begin to believe it. And that has happened in North Carolina,” Hall told TPM. “The rhetoric of voter fraud has seeped into the public consciousness, and it’s very hard to beat it with factual evidence.”
The North Carolina legislature in 2013 passed an expansive series of voting restrictions, including requiring photo IDs to vote, eliminating same-day registration, and nixing out-of-precinct voting, among other restrictions. The U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down the law in July, arguing that the law targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
But the ruling may leave an opening for lawmakers to pass legislation targeting just one aspect of voting access, and incoming Gov. Roy Cooper (D) will likely have no say since Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state general assembly.
“I don’t think the Fourth Circuit ruling takes those kinds of shenanigans off the table,” Riggs told TPM. “As long as that ruling stands, it just means they have to be more careful and do it in baby steps, rather than in the monster law that they did before.”
When asked if the legislature may address voter fraud next year, Woodhouse said, “I think that’s a possibility, but it’s probably going to wait to depend on what the courts do.” In the meantime, he said Republicans will “continue to investigate” potential fraud.