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Elections Bureaucrats Ran Amok Posted on February 19, 2013 by Susan Myrick in Elections & Voting

In a blatantly partisan move, the staff of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) successfully subverted state law to facilitate online voter registration in North Carolina by the 2012 Barack Obama campaign. In doing so they coordinated with partisans behind closed doors, lied about the NC Attorney General’s Office concurring with the SBE staff on the issue, and dodged oversight by their own board and the legislature. The end result was to add thousands of people to the North Carolina voter rolls illegally.

The SBE staff’s audacity is so breath-taking that it’s hard to believe, so let us emphasize:  The Civitas Institute has documented how SBE bureaucrats conspired with a private company, working for the Obama campaign[i], to facilitate a form of online voter registration for the 2012 General Election – in violation of state law. It’s a classic example of how bureaucrats ignore the democratic process and hijack an agency for partisan purposes. Breaking the Law

Civitas initiated a series of public records requests to uncover this scheme concerning online registration in defiance of state law.

NCGS 163-82.6(b) clearly states that the only form where an electronically captured signature can be used is one offered by a state agency:

NCGS 163-82.6 (b) Signature – The form shall be valid only if signed by the applicant. An electronically captured image of the signature of a voter on an electronic voter registration form offered by a State agency shall be considered a valid signature for all purposes for which a signature on a paper voter registration form is used. [Emphasis added]

The major use for this is for voter registration when people get their drivers licenses.

Yet the SBE staff set in motion a scheme that in the last two months of the election resulted in more than 11,000 people being allowed to register online. Civitas has confirmed this by a public records request to all 100 counties and is still compiling the total number of registrations as counties comply with the request. Thus far, 68 percent of the registrations we have received were Democratic voters, 10 percent were Republican voters and 21 percent from unaffiliated voters.

Don Wright, SBE General Counsel, played word games when answering inquires about the Obama campaign’s own re-election site Gottaregister.com, which utilized the technology that SBE staff approved.  Wright repeatedly denied that the SBE allowed online voter registration, insisting that it was “web-based voter registration”[ii] instead, as if there could be a “web-based” process that wasn’t online.

The technology from Allpoint Voter Services uses remote-control pens to transmit “signatures” over the Internet, according to techpresident.com[iii]. After entering voter information in an online form, the citizen “signs” it with a stylus or a finger. The Allpoint technology records the signature and then transmits it to one of two autopens – one in California, the other in Nevada[iv]. One of the pens transcribes the signature on to a paper voter registration form. Allpoint then mails the documents to local election boards – or is supposed to, a point we’ll come back to.

To say this is not “online” registration but “web-based” is like saying a certain vehicle is not a car, it’s an automobile. The point of having a “wet signature” – one in ink – is to provide a universally accepted way proving that a prospective voter is affirming in person all the facts on the form. To have an auto pen inserted at one point in this long computerized process is a far different thing. Even the Obama campaign called it online voter registration. Because, no matter how you twist words around, that’s what it is.

North Carolina law does not authorize any kind of online voter registration, however “wet” or “web-based” it might be. Neither the term “wet signatures” nor the phrase “reduced to paper” appear in the NC General Statutes. The term “wet signature[v]” was put in use in the context of elections by Allpoint Voter Services promoting the product it was providing to the Obama campaign. “Wet signature” is a term that Wright returns to often, even in the legal opinion he authored to support the staff decision. Following the Paper Trail


Click the image above for a larger version.

The scheme appears to go back at least three years, beginning with cautious probes into the topic. The oldest document found pertaining to online voter registration was uncovered in a previous, unrelated Civitas records request to the SBE.  It is a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper[vi] from Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of the SBE, dated September 11, 2009, formally requesting an advisory opinion of the “effect NCGS 66-311 Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) upon possible electronic voter registration.”  That in itself is a bit odd, as UETA is the state law governing commercial transactions in general, and is in a totally different section of the state’s legal code from the election laws. Bartlett asked specifically whether UETA would make it permissible for a county board of elections to accept an electronically submitted voter registration application that has been electronically signed. Bartlett also asked the AG if voter registration is outside the scope of UETA.

Since we did not have a reply to Bartlett’s request, we submitted a records request on January 16, 2013, to the Attorney General’s Office. In answer to our request, Special Deputy Attorney General Susan Nichols informed Civitas that Bartlett orally withdrew the written request in question before a response was prepared.

The next documents[vii] in the timeline can be attributed to the Attorney General’s Office also. Nichols forwarded to Civitas a string of emails dated April 12 – 13, 2010. The emails were a conversation between Nichols and David Becker, Director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States. Nichols, on behalf of Gary Bartlett, was seeking contact with other states that had adopted UETA.  Bartlett wanted to know if the other states chose to also adopt new legislation to facilitate electronic voter registration. Yet why would Bartlett need the AG’s Office to be the go-between? Did he want to keep his profile low?

This inquiry into UETA also appeared to die after an email from Becker to Ms. Nichols. He included a list of states that had passed some form of online voter registration: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

We could surmise from these two tentative inquiries that the SBE was hoping UETA would supersede NCGS 163-82.6, the only North Carolina election statute that speaks to the use of electronic voter registrations.  We might also suspect that the conversation stopped abruptly with both these inquiries because the SBE could not risk a written decision that would prevent it from forging ahead with its online voter registration scheme. Party Politics

The SBE staff’s following move shows their deep collaboration with Obama allies. The next document pertaining to online voter registration was dated more than a year later, on August 23, 2011. Gary Bartlett was forwarded an email from Veronica Degraffenreid[viii], SBE Elections Liaison, with the link to consulting firm Catapult Strategies, specifically the page that introduces Jude Barry. Barry is Catapult’s CEO and co-founder and is co-founder of Verafirma and Allpoint Strategies.

Jude Barry’s political credentials would be considered stellar in Democratic/liberal circles. According to the Catapult site; “In December 2006, he created the Obama for America Draft Committee, the first political committee to raise thousands of dollars online to encourage then-Senator Obama to run for the Presidency.” The Catapult website elaborates on Barry’s political accomplishments[ix] by noting that he began his career in politics as Senator Edward Kennedy’s press aide and later deputy political director. He also worked on presidential bids by liberal Democrats Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean.

The next day, August 24, 2011, Peter Allen, Lead Organizer for Verafirma, contacted Gary Bartlett by email[x] in reference to a phone call he had with the SBE staff. Note that Allen is also an Associate on the Catapult Strategies team.

Catapult Strategies, Inc. describes itself as “a Silicon Valley-based social media, public relations, and political consulting firm with strong ties to and extensive knowledge of Silicon Valley business and political communities.”  Verafirma is a technology company whose projects include the use of electronic signatures for politics. The firm is featured on Catapult Strategies’ website as a “related company.”

On the Catapult site, Allen’s bio refers[xi] to Democratic connections too, “Peter has dedicated the past few years developing a rich understanding of online social media tools and how they can be used to empower and mobilize people on behalf of a candidate or cause. He saw this potential come to fruition as an organizer on Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential campaign ….” Allen was on the Obama campaign’s payroll in May 2008.

It is important to note that in a September 26, 2012 email to Civitas[xii], Don Wright insisted that the SBE had not been contacted by any campaign, candidate, legislator, or political party.  That looks like another word game. Catapult Strategies could easily pass for the outreach and new media wings of the Obama Campaign.

There’s a money trail too: from October 2, 2012 to October 24, 2012, according to Federal Elections Commission data, there were 12 separate payments from the Obama campaign to Allpoint Voter Services, Inc. (See table below.)

Moreover, the number of payments raises another question.  That is, there isn’t a single fee or two, but a series of fees of varying sizes as Allpoint collected signatures. Was the Obama campaign paying Allpoint Voter Services for each registration collected? Doing so would be a violation of NCGS 163‑82.6 (a) (2), which states “To sell or attempt to sell a completed voter registration form or to condition its delivery upon payment” is a class 2 misdemeanor.

SBE attorney Don Wright, in response to inquiries as to whether there was any discussion with Allpoint Voter Services in reference to payments for registrations, said that he had no direct contact with the company but Gary Bartlett, Veronica Degraffenreid and Marc Burris were the staff members who talked directly with the company. According to Wright, the company was never asked if they were being paid for each registration delivered.

We do know that not all forms completed on the site were accepted. Some users were told to print and mail the form on their own. This shows that they were not intending to serve all citizens, but only ones that met a preselected criterion.

After a few short emails over a matter of a few days, but without ever having talked to the company himself, Wright produced a legal opinion approving the Allpoint Voter Services voter registration technology in North Carolina. His opinion dated September 16, 2011 [xiii] claimed it was reviewed by the North Carolina Attorney’s General Office, which concurred in it. That statement is untrue (as you will see later), but since this appears to be an internal SBE staff document it went unchallenged at the time.

On September 19, 2011, Bartlett forwarded Wright’s opinion to Peter Allen. The same day, Allen emailed back and asked for the point person they will be working with to make the SBE’s part “as painless as possible.” Bartlett responded that Degraffenreid and Burris would be the points of contact going forward.[xiv] Election Year Revelations

A year went by without evidence of discussion about the new voter registration technology, however. No documents for the period from September 19, 2011 to September 11, 2012 were turned over as part of our public records request, almost a year of silence on this by the SBE staff.  This silence was broken with less than two months to go before the General Election.

Betsy Meads, a former Pasquotank County BOE member, was the first person to ask about the online voter registration process. It was a happenstance that her son ran across the gottaregister.com website. The next day, September 11, 2012, Betsy Meads sent an email[xv] questioning Don Wright as to the legality of the President’s online voter registration site.  She wrote, “This is contrary to the Statute as I read it, and as I was just in Chapel Hill at training for local board members August 14th, I’m sure I didn’t hear anything about electronic registrations in NC being allowed.” The SBE held the Annual Training for Elections Officials on August 13-14, 2012.[xvi]

On September 13, 2012, Wright delivered an answer to Meads – which was also the answer he gave later to Civitas and one other person who would ask the question about registering to vote online in North Carolina: “There is no online voter registration[xvii] allowed in North Carolina ….” He also forwarded Ms. Meads the legal opinion he had written in 2011 which stated that the North Carolina Attorney’s General Office had concurred in it.

As previously referenced, the statement that the AG’s office had concurred is false. In an email I received from the Attorney General’s office, dated September 18, 2012, Susan Nichols informed Don Wright that she did not concur[xviii] in that decision. In fact, before she had taken her post with the AG, the AG’s office ended the procedure of allowing attorneys to state they concur in an opinion they did not author.

By the time Wright received Nichols’ email, revelations about the online registrations were breaking into the open.

In what appeared to be a move to head off any problems at the local level, on September 18, 2012 the SBE notified the 100 counties to expect a new kind of voter registration. Veronica Degraffenreid sent the email to the County Directors[xix], explaining, describing and defending the new registrations. This email explanation went out just over a month after the SBE had election representatives from across the state at a training session in Chapel Hill – at which they never mentioned this new kind of registration.

Her email went out a day after Gary Bartlett received an email from George Gilbert, Guilford County BOE Director, reporting that they had received “a good number of registration forms from Allpoint Voter Services.” Gilbert went on to say they contained signatures that were “immediately suspect.[xx]” The timing of the responses to Meads and to the counties raises the question of when, if ever, the state SBE would have brought the online registrations to the notice of the counties. Were SBE bureaucrats hoping no one would bring up the online registrations until after all the votes were certified?

Subsequently other counties questioned these forms and offered some observations about problems with them. For example, the Duplin County BOE Director said, “The part we find the most questionable is the similarity of all the signatures ….” Rockingham County wrote, “The forms have info typed in and the signatures all resemble each other and it appears the envelope was addressed with the same marking pen.” Rockingham County also noted one signature did not match the voter’s registration with the DMV.

There are many problems and questions about the decision that the SBE bureaucrats’ made in relation to registering to vote online. For instance, Betsy Meads used gottaregister.com to change her party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated.  Once she “signed” her iPhone, she was informed that her registration would be forwarded to her local BOE. That didn’t happen: 36 hours later she received an email with a link to her registration.  She was told to print the form, sign it and then mail it to the SBE. Did the Obama Campaign prioritize registrations? Did they send some registrations directly to the elections board and decide that others could be sent to the voters?

Perhaps most disturbing, the SBE staff apparently tried to keep this all from the view of the public and even county elections boards until mere weeks before the election, which raises the disturbing question of whether those involved were aiding a last-minute registration surge planned by the Obama campaign.

This is not an isolated incident[xxi], but just one more example of how the SBE staff flouts the law, the legislature and their own board in order to further a partisan agenda. All North Carolina citizens should be aware of the importance of reforming the SBE so that it carries on its duties in a transparent manner, with full regard for the democratic process and in a way that instills trust in the North Carolina election system.

cand_nm recipient_nm disb_amt disb_dt recipient_city disb_desc Obama, Barack ALLPOINT VOTER SERVICES, INC.

























[i] August 2011 – SBE introduction to Allpoint Voter Services

[ii] September 13, 2012 email from Don Wright with initial explanation of online voting

[iii] “Tech President” October 26, 2012

[iv] Email from Veronica Degraffenreid about the location of the two pens

[v] “Government Technology” September 21, 2012

[vi] September 11, 2009 letter from Gary Bartlett to Attorney General asking for “Advisory Opinion”

[vii] Susan Nichols letter to Civitas, email to Don Wright and email string to Pew Center on the States on behalf of Gary Bartlett

[viii] August – September 2011 – SBE and Allpoint Voter Services communications

[ix] Catapult Website – Jude Barry

[x] August, 2011 – Peter Allen emails

[xi] Catapult Website – Peter Allen

[xii] Don Wright Email to Civitas in response to inquiry

[xiii] Don Wright’s legal opinion dated September 16, 2011 – Susan Nichols concurs

[xiv] August 2011 – SBE introduction to Allpoint Voter Services

[xv] September 11, 2012 email from Betsy Meads to Don Wright

[xvi] August 13-14, 2012 Annual Training for Elections Officials –Agenda

[xvii] September 13, 2012 email from Don Wright explaining that there is no online registration in North Carolina

[xviii] September 18, 2012 email from Susan Nichols to Don Wright explaining that she did not concur in his legal

[xix] September 18,2012 email from Degraffenreid to 100 County BOE Directors registrations from Allpoint Voter Services

[xx] September 17, 18 and 24, 2012 emails from local Boards reporting that they had received suspicious registrations

[xxi] Bob Hall and the SBE This article was posted in Elections & Voting by Susan Myrick on February 19, 2013 at 4:21 PM.