A new group in Wake County has filed challenges this summer to almost 900 people on the voter rolls in Wake County, saying they are either not citizens or the person registered to vote is dead.
Voter Integrity Project Executive Director Jay DeLancy and his volunteers say they are on a mission to clean the voter rolls in North Carolina, by researching registered voters and filing challenges to voters in as many counties as they can.
Such challenges are causing tensions with the Wake County Board of Elections, whose chair wrote recently in an online posting that the approach undermines the integrity of the electoral system.
But DeLancy said if dead people once voted in Chicago, they can do so in North Carolina.
“We all roll our eyes and wink about it, but if that's true, why not here? It's like some kind of Jedi mind trick: they say there is no voter fraud in North Carolina. And I'm not drinking that Kool-Aid. I'm just like 'no, I think there is' and the only proof they have is that no one has been prosecuted. So my comeback to that is: the one party that has been in control of the electoral process for 100 years assures us there is nothing wrong with the system, then what's wrong with us checking?” he said.
Who They Are
The conservative-leaning Voter Integrity Project-North Carolina describes itself as a “non-partisan, volunteer organization that works for “free and fair elections.”
It's a mission that caught DeLancy's eye after the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The ensuing debacle in Florida left DeLancy feeling uneasy.
The former Halifax County ROTC teacher was about to retire from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel when he read about a Texas group called True the Vote.
He attended its training session and learned about members' efforts to clean voter rolls. In a list of 3,800 voters, he said they found 600 with suspicious addresses – vacant lots, businesses and post office boxes.
DeLancy returned to North Carolina in 2011 and decided to try something similar.
Although loosely based on True the Vote, DeLancy's Voter Integrity Project is not affiliated with any national organization.
So far, he's working with a small group of volunteers, who hope to spread the effort statewide.
It's set up as a for-profit corporation, which he said was to protect the information of any future donors.
What: For-profit corporation, established in June 2012
President: Jay DeLancy
Mission: “Free and fair elections”
“I don't have any yet, but when I do, it protects them from being randomly attacked … for supporting organization some may not like – something 'not mainstream,'” he told the Record.
DeLancy said the group itself is non-partisan; state voter registration records list him as a registered independent.
“I really want this not to be a partisan issue,” he said. “I view it as an issue that cuts to the core of our Constitution. If we lose control over the ballot box … we're going to wake up to being a ... Venezuelan-type dictatorship eventually.”
That non-partisan approach is exactly why Janice Wilson volunteered to help. She's a member of the Wake County Republican Party – its liaison to the Board of Elections, in fact – but called DeLancy's goals her “grail.”
“It was just exactly what I knew we needed here in Wake County,” she said. “Because even though the Wake County Board of Elections is extremely diligent in trying to keep things on the up and up, their first priority is the voter, and that means they have to allow everybody to vote. We knew we had to step in somewhere.”
Stepping in can mean stepping on a few toes. Some have said challenging voters who claim not to be U.S. citizens is an attack on minorities, or those with foreign-sounding names. But DeLancy said when conducting the research, he did not look at names. He said those who imply he's targeting people are just “distracting from the real issue.”
“We stripped away political party, gender, race, information like that we didn't need,” he said. “The implication was you're targeting people of color. No, we just want the chips to fall where the chips fall.”
Some have also suggested he's out to attack the Board of Elections members and staff, his challenges a critique on their methods or an implication that that they're not doing their job.
Wake Board of Elections Chair Aida Doss Havel commented on DeLancy's May 30 blog post to say she does not appreciate “gotcha” tactics.
Havel's comment also responded to DeLancy's claim that she scolded them during a previous hearing.
“Actually, I did not 'scold you to make the quiet phone call next time,'” she wrote. “What I said was, if you identify a problem, or what you perceive to be as problem, come to us and tell us about it as an adult. There is no need for covert, 'gotcha' type of tactics, and yes, those types of actions do undermine confidence in the system. If, instead, you walk in the front door and say, 'I’ve identified something that may be a problem. Am I looking at it correctly? If so, how can we fix it?' you not only help us and help the system, but you give yourself more credibility.”
DeLancy said in his mind, his actions do the exact opposite of “undermine confidence in the system.”
“I think the voters when they see this kind of give and take it and they see us wrestling with these kinds of problems, it actually strengthens people's confidence,” he said. “If they see us work through this and solve it, it actually will strengthen their impression of it.”
Havel declined to speak to the Record about the Voter Integrity Project, because its challenges are ongoing.
Wake Board of Elections Director Cherie Poucher also declined to comment on the group.
The group has filed voter challenges in multiple counties, a move DeLancy calls his “offense” – attempts to clean up the rolls as best they can before the next election.
“We're looking at the voter rolls, and we're looking at what we do now to prevent wholesale theft, people who do mass registrations of fictitious people,” he said. “We've already found a P.O. box with 20 people registered to it. Things like that raise questions about the legality of voter registration.”
DeLancy declined to elaborate on the P.O. Box, saying only that it was not in Wake County and that an announcement is forthcoming.
The group recently filed challenges against 386 deceased Wake County citizens who they claim are still on the voter rolls. Members of VIP-NC in Alamance and Halifax counties filed similar challenges.
In a press release about the filing, the Voter Integrity Project mentions member John Pizzo, their research director, who worked to prevent election fraud as part of the 2010 Bill Randall for Congress Campaign. At that time, he found the same type of problem in election offices.
“I found several hundred deceased voters on the rolls back then,” he said in a press release. “And the campaign quietly notified the election boards and gave them spreadsheets to make the process of removal as easy as possible.”
Pizzo said now he's found 74 of the same deceased Wake County residents still on the voter rolls more than two years later.
DeLancy said they matched the voter rolls against the official death records provided by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
“All the data that's out there, why couldn't you just clean the voter roles using available public data?” he said. “More to the point: how come the government doesn't do that automatically? They have data we don't have.”
However, the state and county Boards of Election already conduct checks of voter lists. In 2011, while conducting a cross-reference check of the rolls, the North Carolina State Board of Elections identified and removed 12 non-citizens who had improperly voted in a North Carolina election.
Veronica Degraffenreid, elections liaison with the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said those removed had voted at various times from 2006 to 2010 since they were initially registered.
The State Board of Elections also uses the same lists DeLancy used to remove the deceased. Since 2008, more than 13,000 deceased have been removed from Wake County's voter rolls.
Degraffenreid said even with regular checks, yes, sometimes, the deceased remain on voter rolls.
After receiving the information from the Department of Health and Human Services or from family members, county election officials must follow up to make sure they remove the correct voter. In some cases, they cannot be sure, Degraffenreid said.
“We have to be careful they do not remove a voter improperly,” she said. “There are cases where we don't have enough information to feel sure that this is the voter that needs to be removed.”
Degraffenreid gave the example of a woman who may move and change her last name.
What: A hearing to debate 18 challenges to the voter rolls.
Who: Voter Integrity Project and the Wake County Board of Elections
When: 9 a.m. Aug. 21
Where: Public Safety Center Conference Room
“A county has no way of knowing that Jane Doe at 123 Main Street may be the same as Jane Smith at 456 Oak Avenue,” she said. “There's not enough data element there to make a data match.”
Voter Integrity Project isn't just looking for deceased voters. Earlier, the group filed more than 500 challenges to voters who had told the courts they were ineligible to serve as members of a jury because they are not U.S. citizens. One must be a U.S. citizen to vote.
The Wake County Board of Elections dismissed 510 of those challenges at a preliminary hearing based on information from the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, which indicated those residents hold North Carolina driver's licenses or a “legal presence” driver's license if they are not citizens.
DeLancy responded to the dismissal with a complaint filed in superior court claiming DMV records aren't enough proof.
Proof of residency, name, age and Social Security number were not required to obtain a driver's license in North Carolina until the 2006 Technical Corrections Act.
“The breathtaking assumption they are making is that if they have an LP by their name, they are not a citizen, and if they don't, they are,” he said. “And that, to me, is worth cross-examination.”
Another 18 challenges from citizenship list will be heard by the Board Aug. 21.
A DMV representative was not present at the preliminary hearing, but someone will be at the next one, DeLancy said.
Despite DeLancy's emphasis on the Voter Integrity Project's non-partisan stance, the group's first issue – voter ID – prompted controversy and divided along party lines. They campaigned last year to require voters to show identification before voting.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states require photo identification to vote. Another 16 require some type of identification. The others, including North Carolina, have no voter ID law.
DeLancy said it simply makes sense to have people prove they are who they say they are before voting.
“What's wrong with a few minor safeguards?” he said. “Would you ride on a airline that only looked at your utility bill?”
The General Assembly passed a Voter ID bill last year – House Bill 351 – but it was later vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat.
-DeLancy begins VIP-NC
-Begins pushing Voter ID in North Carolina
-June 16 - House Bill 351 approved
-June 23 - HB 351 vetoed by Governor
-DeLancy begins researching voter challenges
-June 26 – VIP-NC files as corporation in North Carolina
-June 27 – Wake Board of Elections Rejects more than 500 of VIP-NC's voter challenges
-July 6 – VIP-NC files suit in Wake County Court following the rejection of those challenges
-July 25 – VIP-NC files challenges to 386 deceased voters in Wake County
-Aug. 21 – Elections Board scheduled to hear 18 other citizenship challenges
Indeed, it seems to be an issue favored more strongly by Republicans; earlier this year, the Republican majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners threw its approval behind House Bill 351. But to DeLancy, it should be a non-partisan issue.
“Anyone who calls this a partisan issue is either sadly mistaken or they're being agitational,” he said “We view this as a Constitutional issue, as a democratic – with a small d – issue that cuts to the core of our freedom in this country, that one person, one vote, one time per election is standard. Without that, we run the risk of falling into all sorts of evil.”
Opponents to the law claim even those with identification will feel “disenfranchised” by having to present ID at the polls. DeLancy said he doesn't want to disenfranchise anyone.
“But a stolen vote is disenfranchising someone else,” he said. “It cuts to the core of our entire way of life.”
Opponents also argue the move will hurt minority voters, who may be less likely to have a driver's license. DeLancy points to what he said happened after Voter ID laws passed in Georgia and Indiana.
“You had greater participation among minorities in those states than you did in demographically neighboring states. Georgia and Mississippi and Indiana-Illinois – in both cases, the minority representation after Voter ID was far greater than prior. I think the reason is, because they began to wake up and think, 'you know, my vote really counts. I think I'll go do it.'”
DeLancy said the recent voter challenges are “offense.” Once election season begins, his next step is “defense,” which means training people to watch the polls on Election Day.
Wilson said the group's objective is to have two observers at each polling place – an ambitious goal with 200 polling places in Wake County alone.
But she and DeLancy say it's necessary to keep an eye out for fraud – something pollworkers and partisan officials are too busy to do.
“Observation changes behavior,” Wilson said. “This is where Voter Integrity comes in and that's why it needs to be nonpartisan.”
Although other issues bother him – the fraud potential of early voting, for example – DeLancy said he “can't think past November.” He said he will put a document together with recommendations for the legislature, but otherwise, will leave the future of the Voter Integrity Project “in the hands of someone greater than me.”
He has no plans to run for office, and said he might go back and teach school.
Wilson said she sees the project living on, growing and adding volunteers in other counties.
“We're doing all the counties that we can. We're going to move forward,” she said. “This is a living thing. Voter registrations change monthly.”
DeLancy, too, knows it's not over. Whether North Carolina turns out to be as bad as old stories of Chicago or not, doesn't mean it might not someday occur if no one is around to watch it.
“We're never going to 100 percent solve voter fraud,” he said. “We'll never know how much fraud there is. I'm looking at minimizing it.”