As a US citizen that votes and expects my vote and every other citizen's to be counted with accuracy, it is rather disturbing when I hear about news such as the strongly suspected voter fraud/cheating by the Republican party in North Carolina to win a seat.

I hear the talk that this is supposedly very rare and unheard of, but here we have it that this very likely is occurring. If this really happened and is confirmed, then that means this could have already been happening and no matter how many or who gets out and votes, it doesn't really matter as they could technically cheat their way in office regardless of vote and manipulate just enough to win.

This makes me wonder some things and I believe all of these questions go together context wise and I couldn't think of an easy way to word in all into one individual question.

  • What are some reasons the current voting system used in America is insecure and vulnerable to illegal cheating tactics?

  • At the moment, what is in place to help prevent those (people and processes) responsible for tallying voter ballets from cheating at this level?

  • Are there any solutions to any of the fraudulent vulnerabilities with the current system that have been brought up legislatively already?

Note: It seems reasonable to assume there will always be human error and trickery prone type vulnerabilities in systems so con artist who are out there swindling fools will always be able to do so for those that lack the common sense—there's not a fix for "stupid" with any system.

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    Just a clarification: voter fraud, essentially where a non-eligible voter pretends to be an eligible voter, is pretty rare. The North Carolina thing (where valid absentee ballots allegedly were manipulated) is some other type issue under the broader term of electoral fraud.
    – Giter
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 15:15
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    From a brief scan of the CNN article, it sounds like they haven't ruled out Jeffrey Smith's account that these signatures were from get-out-the-vote workers who canvass group adult housing. Still, in the case that the individual absentee forms were falsified, I suppose that we still have a month or two to sort that out on an individual basis... there's still a criminal justice system an laws against that, right? Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 15:18
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    Notice a few things about this... the alleged vote manipulation was not done by public officeholders but by sneaks in the voting system. If votes were handled by the majority, then we would be rightly worried about this- but they're not. Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 15:20
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    AFAIK, the NC State Board of Elections is investigating, until they reach a conclusion of actual electoral fraud it may be premature to suggest that fraud really happened. So, at this time I'd suggest that the "system" did and is working to detect possible fraud. Practically any human activity is vulnerable to fraud and fraud prevention is a huge industry, so there are likely no "simple" solutions.
    – BobE
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 15:38
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    As per "I believe all of these questions go together context wise and I couldn't think of an easy way to word in all into one individual question", I addressed this in the question. This question is not too broad and I touched on your specific item you speak of so please be sure to read my entire question. Also, please see the very first comment on this question where I stated "Feel free to help me make this a better political question that doesn't steer to far from what I'm trying to get at here". Feel free to actually help with this respect if you see a better way. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 6:17

2 Answers 2


I'm no lawyer, but I'll try to answer with a specific context to this case.

What are some reasons the current voting system used in America is insecure and vulnerable to illegal cheating tactics?

Absentee By Mail

In this case, a voter can request a ballot by mail by submitting a request (on a standard form or a non-standard mailed request with the correct information and language) and signing it themselves. They instruct their county Board of Elections where to send the ballot. In a substantial number of cases, voters who won't be at their voting residence during the election will have it mailed to the location they expect to be. In North Carolina, it's legal for an organizer or volunteer to give the voter a form and information on how to go about requesting this ballot, and the voter does not have to have an "excuse" to vote early.

After the request is made, the ballot is mailed to the voter, and data is available on when that person was mailed a ballot. It's alleged that the person at the center of the investigation hired people to and participated in a form of "Ballot Harvesting", which is illegal in North Carolina. Allegedly the ballots were collected from the voter (in some cases unsealed) and the ballot was altered before being mailed or delivered back to the Board of Elections. Despite requiring two signatures and the signature of the voter, this left open the ability for a person to alter or vote another persons ballot as a kind of "middle man" attack before it was sent to the Board of Elections and processed.

Election Officials

In several cases in North Carolina, elections officials have not counted ballots that were legally cast. (See quote and source below for more information here)

At the moment, what is in place to help prevent those (people and processes) responsible for tallying voter ballets from cheating at this level?

Vote Tabulation

The vote tabulation is done in NC by optical scan machines used to count paper ballots marked by the voter. However as outlined in an audit of the 2016 election provided by the North Carolina State Board of Elections

County election officials occasionally must enter election results by hand directly into the vote tabulation software. This may occur, for example, due to a media card failure. This audit can catch inadvertent mistakes in transcribing numbers, as well as purposeful manipulation of data. After the 2016 election, the NCSBE identified all manual entries that occurred in November across the state. Data analysts then reached out to the counties to identify the reasons for the manual entries. NCSBE determined all manually entries were done for valid purposes. In the future, manual entry audits will include an automated process able to detect transcription errors in real time as results are entered by hand. This change, still under development, will help ensure the accuracy of manual entries made in future elections.

Election Officials

As noted in correspondence from the North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee, there are additionally threats posed by elections officials by not counting ballots that should have been counted

Vulnerabilities are not all external, however, and our agency’s investigation into two cases of criminal misconduct by elections officials in different counties (each has pleaded guilty) have highlighted the need for stronger internal safeguards. In 2016, we implemented integrity audits that have strengthened the accuracy and integrity of the elections, both by detecting criminal violations and by ensuring that every ballot cast by a qualified voter is counted by the county board.

Proposed and Current Solutions

Centralized auditing and automated anomaly detection are prevalent counter measures currently being employed in North Carolina. In a memo to the members of the Election Assistance Commission, the NCSBE Executive Director writes:

Over the past two election cycles we have developed a post-election audit program to identify any discrepancies that could affect an election. As a result of the new known security concerns, we are expanding and enhancing this audit program. We are in the process of hiring two full-time senior business analysts to work on election security and integrity audit initiatives.

She continues, highlighting the recent rise of cyber attacks her proposed strategies for combating those efforts:

  • We have learned over the past year the essential need for cybersecurity expertise. This expertise is foundational for improving decision-making that impacts election technology. A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) will facilitate continual monitoring of our systems for vulnerabilities and provide technical guidance to the 100 county boards of elections. Five-year budget, from federal grant funds, is $1,018,067.

  • County boards of elections are undergoing security assessments. We will provide sub grants to county elections boards to address identified security needs. Training is an essential component to any election. Thousands of election workers are trained for each election in North Carolina. Our goal is to expand the content of our programs to include training on detecting, preventing and responding to cyber- attacks. Five-year budget for county cybersecurity improvements, from federal grant funds, is $1,500,000.

  • We are also implementing a Cyber Advisory Panel, made up of nationally-recognized security experts, to provide us with ongoing guidance in addressing security threats and staying current with best practices. Five-year budget, from federal grant funds, is $750,000.
  • We will implement security recommendations provided by federal, state and NGO partners. This is budgeted to use $222,032 of federal grant funds and $64,000 of state matching funds.

Are there any solutions to any of the fraudulent vulnerabilities with the current system that have been brought up legislatively already?

The NCSBE Executive Director proposed a few legislative changes and Congressional Democrats have proposed a comprehensive package of election law changes that include strengthening and modernizing the Voting Rights Act

  • Good information!!! This gives me some ideas for another correlated question I may open later down the road. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 20:11
  • Happy to help, if you'd like additional information or clarity about a particular topic, let me know. NC elections and voter protection are two of my favorite topics. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 20:15
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    Definitely but it will be an additional posted question for sure. Your detail seems to fit the bill nicely per my wording criteria of this particular question. I will inform you for sure when I open another correlated question your answer helped me think of that's related to your expertise. Thank you greatly!! Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 20:21
  • Not sure I agree with the criticism of "by mail", except where it's done ad-hock. In the State of Washington, we have statewide system where all votes are "by mail", and the system seems to have a good set of controls. Note that when I say by mail, I personally choose to deposit my ballots in a secure ballot box at the local library, saves on postage. I can use the internet to privately verify if my ballot was counted, but not what votes were made. Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 10:31
  • Burt, it's not a criticism of Vote by Mail, which is clearly an imperative tool in the democracy toolbox, just a point that it has been abused and has the potential to be abused to a greater degree than in person voting. Even still, the illegal activity was clearly flagged, so there wasn't a complete failure of the system, but it is nearly impossible to track the depth of the effect of the illegal activity and you can quite put that genie back in the bottle. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 5:39

In this specific case, the root cause is the P.T.Barnum rule of society: "There's a sucker born every minute".

The alleged wrongdoings (based on my cursory glance of news, admittedly from rather left wing source) were of a variety of "Some stranger comes to you, asks you to give your un-sealed and un-filled ballot, and you give it to them to abuse". The system's defense against it is that it's illegal. It's also against any common sense even if you aren't sophisticated enough to know that it's illegal.

This is political equivalent of someone walking up to your door and asking you to hand them a signed, un-filled-out check, so they can pay your bills for you.

There's no defense possible to be designed against this level of gullibility. Con people can always socially engineer any system where the wetware is the weak link.

A more interesting question (free PhD thesis topic to some political science grad student, my treat) is whether there's a correllation between voter ideology and being succeptible to such cons. My null hypothesis is that "pro-individualist" conservatives would be less likely to hand over their voting forms, even if by a small margin.

  • I'd find your PhD thesis topic interesting were I seeking such a degree. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 4:49
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    While your answer highlights part of the problem, it fails to point out that the current auditing and oversight processes caught it. In fact, there's now an established record that the current system caught it in 2016 and forwarded it to the appropriate prosecutorial officials. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 19:15

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