I-Team: How people voted illegally in 2016 and what's being done now to stop them

Monday, November 5, 2018
Why illegal voting isn't always done with unlawful intent
Those who vote illegally sometimes do so unwittingly.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a bold statement, but one that both federal and state officials keep repeating: security for the 2018 midterm elections is the strongest its ever been in history.

"We are in the best position than we've ever been in as a state," Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, asserts to the ABC11 I-Team. "We don't know what threats lurk out there, but we feel like we've done everything we can to detect and respond to any incident in North Carolina."

Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, echoed that sentiment last week in a speech in Washington.

"Everyone should vote. Everyone should feel confident that state and local officials are doing everything they can to secure the infrastructure," Nielsen said. "Because a very important thing here is the adversary wins if we don't vote, right?"

Indeed, the pivotal midterm elections is the climax of a long and divisive campaign season, and it's also the first major national election since the 2016 presidential election, which was mired in controversy surrounding allegations of voter fraud and a roundly-accepted intelligence assessments of coordinated attempts by foreign governments to interfere in the election.

"My biggest concern," Nielsen said, "is that a foreign entity will take the opportunity after the election or the night of the election to attempt to sow discord through social media by suggesting that something did not work as it should in a certain area."

North Carolina's Post-Election Audit

Preparations for the 2018 midterms actually started almost immediately after 2016, when state officials opened a wide-ranging audit of the presidential election.

Among the report's conclusions, officials reported nearly 4.8 million N.C. voters participated in the 2016 general election - the largest number in state history - and suspected cases of ineligible voters casting ballots and/or committing fraud represented a "tiny fraction" of overall turnout.

But it still happened: 441 open cases of voting by suspected active felons, 41 non-citizens with legal status (green card, etc.) casting ballots, 24 substantiated cases of double-voting, and two cases of voter impersonation. The report found "no evidence" of ballot stuffing or equipment tampering.

The information was passed on to prosecutors, who filed several charges leading to a series of convictions and plea deals.

Neko Rogers, who lives near Mebane in Alamance County, was one of the illegal voters in 2016, casting a ballot while on felony probation. She attests that she did not know that her probation meant she could not vote, and she says she even showed her driver's license to register at an early-voting site.

"I don't think anyone of us who voted maliciously voted," Rogers says to ABC11. "I don't think any of us were voting intentionally knowing we committed voter fraud."

Patrick Gannon, the spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, acknowledges that the audit found the vast majority of illegal voters were not aware of the rules - and there weren't enough resources at the time for poll workers to identify issues.

"Most of what the audit found was that people were out of jail but on probation or parole or post-release supervision of some sort," he says. "There didn't used to be an immediate check or near-immediate check of felon status. We've updated our systems to have a more immediate check and we've worked extensively with the Department of Public Safety to ensure their people, their parole and probation officers are notifying folks that when they're convicted felons they can't vote until their sentence is completed, including probation, parole, post-release supervision.

As for the foreign nationals voting, Gannon says most of those who voted also did so without fully understanding their citizenship status.

"Some people may not understand the nuance between being a permanent resident or a legal resident and being a U.S. citizen."

The I-Team spoke directly with one of 19 foreign nationals charged - a woman from Germany who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years. Attorneys representing several of the others charged also maintained their clients' honest mistake of not knowing they were ineligible to vote.

Investments in Election Security

Thanks to a federal grant, the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement received nearly $11 million from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and state matching dollars to enhance overall election security.

According to Gannon, the funding is key in the ongoing modernization of North Carolina's election management system, known as SEIMS, which manages nearly every aspect of elections. Gannon adds this is the largest IT project conducted by the State Board in nearly two decades, resulting in improvements to the functionality and security of the state's elections systems.

The memo on the HAVA Security Grant details a number of other investments, including $3.5 million in cyber security personnel and training.

Also new in 2018, the state is benefiting from increasing coordination with the National Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which sent a "hunt team" to the State Board office in Raleigh conducting a thorough review of their systems.

In a letter posted on the Board's website, NCSBE Director Kim Westbrook Stratch writes: "At the State Board, our goal has always been making sure elections are accessible, fair and accurate. That mission will not be undercut by domestic or foreign threats. You have the right to be confident that your vote counts, and we promise to remain vigilant on your behalf."