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WRAL's Cullen Browder reviews comments made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Holly Grange on Jan. 29, 2020. WRAL's Cullen Browder reviews comments made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Holly Grange on Jan. 29, 2020.

WRAL's Cullen Browder reviews comments made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Holly Grange on Jan. 29, 2020.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht January 29, 2020

Republicans in North Carolina are upset that a federal judge struck down a law requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls.

In 2018, voters approved the idea of photo ID through a referendum to amend the state constitution. Lawmakers then crafted a new law. About a year later, a judge blocked it in order to hear arguments that the law would deter black and Latino residents. 

Photo ID is a big talking point among political candidates. Generally speaking, Democrats say it is burdensome to voters while Republicans believe it’s necessary to prevent voter fraud.

NC Rep. Holly Grange, a Republican who’s running for governor, spoke about the court’s decision during a Military Officers Association event on Jan. 7. She made an interesting claim about the ease with which someone could impersonate another voter. 

"I also wanted to talk a little bit about voter ID. Many of you, more than two-thirds of North Carolinians, voted to have voter ID. Unfortunately, there was a ruling by a federal judge in the last week or so that has said that we’re not going to be able to have voter ID in our next election because they (inaudible) the wrong reasons," Grange said in audio captured by American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal group that helps elect Democrats.

First, we should point out that Grange's election stats are a little off. A little more than 55 percent of voters supported the idea of photo ID – not two-thirds like she said. But that's not what we're focusing on for this fact check. We've bolded the line we're fact-checking in Grange's speech below.

"When I first moved to North Carolina and was a poll observer, I’ll never forget an election judge at that particular polling place coming over to me and saying, ‘Well Holly, the reason we don’t ask for ID in North Carolina is because someone could break into your house and steal your ID. And I said, ‘Well, now all they have to do is look a name up in a phone book.’"

Grange isn’t the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to criticize North Carolina’s voting laws. In an ad prior to the photo ID referendum, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest attempted to show voters how easy it might be to commit voter fraud.

Grange’s critique wasn’t as detailed and specific as Forest’s. So we reached out to her and asked what she meant. 

Was she suggesting that it would be easy to impersonate another voter without getting caught? (Because that’s not true.) Or was she suggesting that someone could walk into a polling site, impersonate another voter, cast a vote, and walk out without being immediately arrested?

Turns out, it was the latter. 

"I didn’t say anybody could get away with it," Grange told WRAL in a phone interview. "But it could be done. There are a myriad of ways they could be caught doing that. But they could try with that information. I haven’t heard of anybody doing that."

So, we wondered: is it possible for someone to walk into a polling site, impersonate another voter, cast a vote, and walk out without being immediately caught?

We reached out to the North Carolina Board of Elections.

In theory, the phonebook does contain information someone could use to commit voter fraud. But that information alone likely isn’t enough to pull it off without being caught and charged with a felony.

What you need to vote

In North Carolina, residents need to register in order to vote. According to the NC elections board, a prospective voter must:

  • Be 18 years old.
  • Be a citizen of the United States.
  • Live in the county of his/her registration, and have resided there for at least 30 days prior to the date of the election.
  • Not be serving a sentence for a felony conviction, including probation or parole. (If a prospective voter has previously been convicted of a felony, his/her citizenship rights must be restored.)

Then, those who are registered can vote on Election Day at their specified voting site or they can vote early at any open polling site. 

When a voter arrives at her voting site, the poll worker will ask for his or her name and address. Grange is right that these are indeed things you could find in a phonebook. However, if you’re trying to impersonate someone, showing up at the polls with only these two pieces of information doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to vote.

Potential hangups

Most phonebooks lack five pieces of information that you’d likely need to successfully impersonate a North Carolina voter, including:

  • A person’s gender, 
  • Birth date,
  • Race,
  • Registration status,  
  • Whether the person already voted, and
  • Whether that person is alive.

While a person's race and birth date aren't available in most phone books, those details are included on poll worker’s voter information sheets, according to Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the elections board.

To be clear, the elections board doesn’t train poll workers to check personal information about the voter -- their race or age -- before handing over a person’s ballot. But, if questions arose about a person’s identity at a polling place, that information about the voter would be available to poll workers. 

Of course, some personal information can be found by searching the internet. For instance, a voter’s registration status can be found by using the "voter lookup tool" on the elections board’s website. 

Even then, someone trying to impersonate a voter runs the risk that a poll worker knows the real voter and detects mischief.

The biggest unknown

The most difficult piece of information to track down is whether someone has already voted. 

If you try to vote on someone’s behalf and it turns out they’ve already voted, the poll worker would take note of it and the State Board of Elections may investigate the incident, Gannon said. 

The board "has a dedicated Investigations Division that investigates these types of incidents and refers evidence of fraud to prosecutors," Gannon said. 

Even if the impersonator arrives at the polls the minute early voting opens, he or she would be taking a risk. It’s possible that the person already voted absentee by mail. 

But there’s no way to know whether someone has requested an absentee by mail ballot. That information used to be available. But state lawmakers changed North Carolina’s laws following the 2018 election scandal in the 9th Congressional District.

If the victim hasn’t voted, the impersonator could potentially commit voter fraud undetected — so long as that person never shows up to vote. If the victim shows up, the NC elections board would work with the victim to nullify the impersonator’s vote.

But that’s rarely necessary. The elections board found only two cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election, when nearly 4.8 million North Carolinians voted. The impersonator’s familiarity with the voter was a common theme. Both instances involved family members voting in the place of a recently deceased loved one, he said.

In the act of impersonating another voter, there's one last potential deterrent.

"When someone votes, they sign an Authorization to Vote Form certifying (under penalty of a Class I felony) that they are a registered voter who lives at the address printed on the form," Gannon said in an email.

Our conclusion

Grange said people could commit voter fraud in North Carolina by simply opening a phone book. This is a hypothetical statement, so we're not going to issue a rating.

But it's important to know the facts:

Someone could, in theory, pick a name and address from the phone book and show up to vote in that person’s name.

However, there are reasons they may not be able to cast a ballot at all – and several ways they could be caught.

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