Column: Vote early, not often

Published 9:25 am Sunday, October 6, 2019

Over the years when voter irregularities pop up, it is almost inevitable, at least among my crowd, that someone will declare “vote early, vote often.” The statement was always or almost always accompanied by a smile and always delivered with a satirical inflection. After the recent special election, it was no longer a laughing matter.

Four voters in Dare County, two in Manteo and two in Kill Devil Hills, had done just that. All four voted in the one stop early voting and again on election day. Another voter appeared to do the same, but wasn’t challenged because the double vote wasn’t discovered in time. At the challenge hearing, two of the voters declared remorse and claimed confusion. They said they thought they were voting in a separate election.

From the comments posted online and conveyed after the story broke, it was evidently a hard pill for many to swallow. In today’s world of instant judgement, some questioned how a voter could not know. How can a vote be cast only days apart without knowledge? How could poll workers not catch and turn them away before they were allowed to vote twice? Before we rush to judgement, we might want to consider the circumstances surrounding this particular election.

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In November 2018, Republican Walter Jones, running unopposed, won reelection in the 3rd Congressional District of North Carolina. Jones died on February 10, 2019.The Congressman’s death prompted a special election to fill the 3rd District seat. Republican and Democratic primaries were held on April 30, 2019. The Republican primary required a runoff that took place on July 9. The general election was held on September 10, with early one stop voting in Dare County beginning on August 21.

Further complicating the election, Hurricane Dorian impacted Dare County, forcing an interruption of early voting. Once the threat had passed, an additional early voting day was scheduled. On top of that, a separate 9th District special election was dominating the news and the filing period for the November municipal elections were held in July. Some election officials say that’s a lot of moving parts.

In this case, the local election board sustained the challenge. Local election poll judges admitted they missed the “ABS” printed on the labels that would flag the voters as having already cast a vote. The One Stop Absentee Ballots were retrieved through tracking numbers. Their early votes were voided. Although the election of Republican Greg Murphy was never in doubt, the result totals were adjusted. The names of the voters who double voted were sent to the North Carolina election board, which could review them and, although unlikely in this case, refer the challenges to a District Attorney to determine if prosecution is warranted.

The local election board says they will take steps to safeguard the voting system. Perhaps printing the tell-tale ABS on the labels associated with the voter’s registration label in color so they will stand out. Maybe add more poll workers, break the registration books down into more alphabetized registration books to make it easier for poll workers. Voters in the 2020 presidential election will be required to show ID; in this case that wouldn’t have prevented double voting. Those casting the vote used their own names. It was the poll judges that realized the mistake and initiated the challenge.

For me, voting is sacred to our democracy. For me, voting is the cornerstone of our Republic. I remember my first vote. As I entered the voting booth and flipped the levers, I had a feeling that at last I was part of something bigger, something important. Over the years, when our son was small, my wife and I would take him to the polls with us. We thought it was important that he learned early that he was a part of something special.

During one election, he watched as I filled out my ballot and walked with me as I fed the ballot into the scanner. As we left the poll he said, “Dad did you vote for the right person?” I assured him I always voted for the right person, they just don’t always win. Upon reflection, that was a lie. Over the years I have often voted for the wrong person who just happened to win. Participation is more important than perfection when casting a ballot.

I can’t tell you if any of the voters challenged double voted on purpose. Only they can tell you. I know election officials say there was no evidence of intentional voter fraud. If it was truly a mistake, then I hope they learn from it. If it was on purpose, then shame on them. If you double vote, do so at your peril. Double voting is a class I felony and those who cast multiple ballots can face fines, community service and jail time.

Gregory Clark is a reporter for The Coastland Times. Reach him at