RALEIGH — Nine years ago, then-Dunn City Councilwoman Carolyn McDougal faced 16 felony charges of voter fraud.
Prosecutors accused McDougal of fraudulently receiving absentee ballots and returning them to the county board of elections with forged signatures.
Four days into her trial, McDougal agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and agreed to resign from the Dunn council.
McDougal’s case is one of the rare instances of organized voter fraud — the type orchestrated by a candidate — prosecuted over the past couple of decades in North Carolina. It could be the kind of voter fraud that legislative Republicans want to prevent with legislation requiring a photo ID card when voting.
In fact, the photo ID legislation now making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly would make absentee ballot fraud easier.
The proposal to require a photo ID to vote is generating some heated discussion around the Legislative Building these days.
Opponents say the requirement will suppress voter turnout, especially that of the poor who may not drive and may not have a photo ID. Some see it as a Republican power play at the expense of those voters, an attempt to gain electoral advantage.
Supporters say the legislation is intended to address voter fraud in an era when it has become too easy for anyone to walk into a polling place and claim to be someone else. They say they are responding to a growing lack of confidence in the electoral system.
The rhetoric on both sides seems a bit overblown.
Hardly anyone can function in society today without a photo ID, and the legislation allows for several types of ID, including a new voter ID card that will be issued free of charge.
Supporters, though, have a hard time citing any evidence of the fraud that the bill is designed to stop. Sure, they talk about voters who went into a polling place only to discover that voter rolls showed them as having already voted.
Is that fraud, or a poll worker putting a sticker in the wrong place? More importantly, where are these cases of candidates organizing massive conspiracies in which large numbers of people vote in their precinct then go tramping over to another precinct to vote in someone else’s name?
They don’t exist, except in the minds of conspiracy theorists.
In every election, a handful of idiots may vote twice in an election. That doesn’t mean they swayed an election or did so at the behest of a candidate.
On the other hand, preventing candidates or activists from getting hold of large numbers of absentee ballots would seem to be one of the best ways of preventing organized voter fraud.
The legislation makes that kind of fraud much easier, allowing outside groups to create or fill out forms for absentee ballot voters.
But why worry about real fraud when you can feed the fantasies of the conspiracy-minded?
Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.