North Carolina Republicans Targeted Voter Fraud. Did They Look at the Wrong Kind?

A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, who sponsored the 2013 legislation, added that the measure also required voters to provide Social Security or drivers’ license data and to either notarize their ballots or have them signed by witnesses. He said the requirements aimed to counter security risks posed by making absentee-ballot request forms available online.

Other Republicans also rejected arguments that the party’s lawmakers should have devoted more time to absentee-ballot fraud.

“The legislation from 2013 that made absentee-ballot request forms available online brought North Carolina’s absentee-ballot process into the 21st century and in line with the majority of other states around the nation that have their request forms online,” said Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senator Phil Berger, the upper chamber’s most powerful Republican.

Mr. D’Elia, invoking the history of sordid allegations surrounding absentee voting in Bladen County, added that “any attempt to connect this legislation to the apparent voter fraud that occurred in Bladen County in 2016 and 2018 is absurd. Voter fraud is still illegal, and this law did nothing to change that.”

At least one outside expert suggested that was disingenuous. Legislators crafted stringent identification requirements to combat voter impersonation, but “did very little with respect to what could have been done” to protect absentee ballots, said Paul Gronke, a political science professor and director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Ore. For example, he said, other states verify ballot signatures and notify absentee voters when their ballots are received and counted.

“If you’re going to be consistent — if your concern is voter fraud — you should be scrutinizing and improving the absentee-ballot system, not in-person voting,” said Mr. Gronke, who was an expert witness in a lawsuit challenging the 2013 voting law. “Because in-person fraud virtually never happens.”

North Carolina voters last month approved a constitutional amendment to enshrine an identification regimen for in-person voting. On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives voted to require that absentee voters submit “additional documentation necessary to comply with the identification requirements.”