Wrongly Accused Voters Seek Changes to North Carolina Protest Process

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Last year’s hotly-contested North Carolina gubernatorial election generated considerable controversy after the post-election battle to decide the winner – and now a group of voters wrongly accused of voter fraud as part of the process is seeking changes in how the state handles election protests. The Greensboro News & Record has more:

A group of residents have filed a letter with the State Board of Elections asking to change a process that’s used to dispute the validity of someone’s vote.

Dozens of people in North Carolina were accused of illegally voting in the 2016 election — either by being a convicted felon who shouldn’t have voted, by voting in multiple states or by another means. Called an election protest, it can be filed by any registered voter or candidate, and simply must be done in writing with the accuser’s name, address, phone number and signature. It also must state the basis for the challenge.

Here’s the relevant text of the letter:

We write to you as North Carolina citizens who were falsely accused of committing voter fraud in 2016. We urge the State Board of Elections to change the process that allows someone to easily accuse a person of illegally voting, despite having no evidence to back up the charge.

The complaints or “protests” filed against us included no documentation that we did anything wrong. And indeed we did nothing wrong! But by filling out a simple form, someone caused us to become the subject of an official investigation.

We were all shocked to learn we had been accused of a crime. Some of us were told to appear at a meeting of the county board of elections to answer questions. Some of us had our names in media reports about a charge of voter fraud. All of us had our names put in the public record as the target of an allegation that either we voted illegally in two states or we voted illegally while serving a felony sentence.

We understand that many county boards of elections launched investigations, held meetings, and spent precious staff time trying to “get to the bottom” of a complaint that was filed with no actual evidence to examine.

We ask the State Board of Elections to: (1) change the form for filing a protest complaint so it requires a presentation of evidence to support an allegation; and (2) create a process to hold accountable anyone who files a frivolous or negligent complaint or a pattern of repeated false complaints.

Throwing around accusations of voter fraud creates significant harm to innocent voters like us. People who make irresponsible accusations, over and over, affecting many innocent voters, should be held accountable for their actions.

It’s an important consideration for all states, not just North Carolina; finding a balance between allowing a procedure to identify and investigate potential voting issues and protecting voters from broad allegations of misconduct is an essential part of the protest process. While the voters at issue have the most at stake, election officials receiving these complaints are also affected in that they must allocate time and resources to follow up on the allegations. Finding a way to ensure that complaints have some actual factual basis – and backing that up with sanctions for misusing the process – will benefit election officials and voters alike.

Like most other current aspects of North Carolina law, the prospects for this request are not clear – but it’s definitely worth watching in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned …

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