Election fraud is not the same thing as voter fraud. Republicans never really cared either way.

An unfolding case of fraud in North Carolina is exposing the GOP's obsession with "election integrity" for what it is: a sham.

Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell have been obsessed with non-existent voter fraud for years. Suddenly they've gone silent when faced with actual election fraud. Why? Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell have been obsessed with non-existent voter fraud for years. Suddenly they've gone silent when faced with actual election fraud. Why? Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

There is still much we don’t know about what transpired in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, but what we do know is alarming: a man with ties to Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris and several other local GOP officials paid multiple women to collect strangers’ absentee ballots, and Harris narrowly won both the GOP primary and general election thanks to nearly impossible margins in the absentee vote.

It’s too early to say definitively, but North Carolina Republicans could very well end up being responsible for the biggest case of election fraud in modern U.S. history.

And therein lies an important distinction: what we are watching unravel in slow motion is a textbook case of election fraud. It is not, as many have either carelessly or intentionally claimed, voter fraud.

First, a few distinctions. Election fraud is the act of infiltrating and disrupting the normal democratic process of voting, usually with the expressed intention of affecting the results. If your objective is to commit election fraud, you aren’t focused on individual votes but entire swaths of voters. Think hacking a digital voting machine and manipulating the data, or, in the case of North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, stealing, withholding, or altering dozens of absentee ballots. It is one person, or a small group of people, trying to alter hundreds or thousands of votes at a time.

Voter fraud, on the other hand, is a comparatively small-scale crime. As the name suggests, it is a crime committed by one voter who intentionally tries to cast a ballot in an election he or she is not legally permitted to vote in. Think an Iowa Republican voting in her home precinct, then driving to a neighboring district to vote for Donald Trump a second time.


Rarer still is voter impersonation, a specific strain of voter fraud and one of the GOP’s favorite and most lucrative straw men. Voter impersonation is the non-existent crisis Republicans are trying to solve when they talk about the need for voter ID laws.

Given how adamant Republicans have been about the need to protect the integrity of our elections, one might think at least a few prominent GOP leaders or conservative think tanks would sound the alarm over what is unfolding in North Carolina. And yet, aside from a few piecemeal statements paying lip service to a deeply troubling case of fraud, there has been largely silence.

There are two reasons why. First, it is a Republican who benefited from this particular fraud. The party has already lost an astounding 40 seats in the House of Representatives so far this election cycle, they do not want to watch another formerly solid Republican district flip from red to blue. If the beneficiary had been a Democrat, you can bet every bloviator would be screaming bloody murder on national television. That’s not a hypothetical, either — Republicans got their knickers in a twist last month when several outstanding races in California, Utah, New Jersey, and elsewhere flipped in favor of the Democrats after mail-in ballots were all counted. In those races, there wasn’t a whiff of fraud, but that didn’t stop Republicans from insinuating otherwise.

The second reason is the more pertinent one, though. Republicans don’t care about election fraud in North Carolina because they never cared about protecting the integrity of elections in the first place. Their obsession with voter fraud has nothing to do with ensuring ineligible voters don’t cast ballots, it has everything to do with ensuring certain eligible voters don’t cast ballots.

Voter ID laws don’t solve the voter impersonation problem (that doesn’t exist), they solve Republicans’ problem of being unable to win elections. As every serious study on the matter has found, voter ID laws are discriminatory against minorities, students, elderly voters, and low-income voters, all demographics that tend to vote for Democrats. The aim of voter ID laws is to make it as hard as possible for Democratic voters to cast their ballots on Election Day, plain and simple.


The deafening silence emanating from the Republican caucus, Fox News, and the halls of the Heritage Foundation are extremely telling, and completely understandable: this one case of fraud in North Carolina is exposing the party’s entire election integrity platform as the sham that it is.