Improving Trust in Elections

“If people can’t trust the elections process, how can they trust anything else in government?” House Oversight and Reform Committee Co-Chair Jake Johnson asked before hearing testimony from North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell on June 22.

Brinson Bell told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the state’s election data and processes are largely trusted and trustworthy, though not perfect. “Trust to me,” she said” is if you don’t believe in the system, you won’t use the system. And we had 75% of our voters turn out in 2020. We had 51% turn out in 2022. These numbers are high compared to other election years. So, when you look at that, our voters do have trust in how we conduct elections in North Carolina.”

Committee members asked about ways to further improve trust, whether reducing the 600,000 potentially out-of-date or inaccurate records, making online data easier to connect and understand, or clarifying ballot processes. Topics included absentee ballots, same-day registration, voter ID implementation, and database management.

Budget concerns were a late addition to the agenda. From 2017 through 2019, Governor Cooper’s budget requests and the budgets passed by the General Assembly were similar in size and priorities. In 2021, the General Assembly chose to set aside $5 million for “mobile voting support” instead of Cooper’s smaller request to upgrade the State Board’s campaign finance software and digitize historical voting data. Despite the lack of funding, Cooper did not make the same requests in 2022. Setting aside the massive influx of federal funds during Covid, appropriations climbed from $6.8 million in fiscal year 207-18 to $8.3 million in fiscal year 2022-23, a 25 percent increase in five years.

Dr. Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation, Marian Lewin of the Legal Women Voters, Carolyn Smith of Democracy North Carolina, and J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) also provided written testimony to address those concerns.


Questions from committee members focused on remaining shortcomings, including the accuracy of voter rolls. While those disparities may not result in large numbers, in a close election, they could make the difference between winning and losing.

Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) said Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) Executive Director Shane Hamlin said North Carolina could have 600,000 out-of-date or inaccurate records based on experience in other states. Brinson Bell’s presentation showed that 2,151 same-day registrations, either first-time or relocated voters, in 2020 could not be verified.

Chairman Johnson asked about another anomaly of 266 duplicate ballots in 2022. Rep. Maria Cervania (D-Wake) gave Brinson Bell an opportunity to defend the system because the number of problem votes and registrations is a small percentage of the 7.3 million registered voters, or the 3.8 million votes cast.

… our voters do have trust in how we conduct elections in North Carolina.”

Karen Brinson Bell

Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) also raised concern based on a PILF study that found 1,454 voters who were not naturalized citizens were registered in 2014. Asked if there are protocols in place to prevent these errant registrations, Brinson Bell said there is an attestation of citizenship on the registration form.

List Maintenance

Additionally in his series of questions, Chesser asked how voter rolls can be as clean as possible. In response to an example of a registered voter who dies out of state, Brinson Bell acknowledged North Carolina would depend on ad hoc information from the other state. She added that the State Board of Elections is unable to get information such as deaths from the federal Social Security Administration: “We have to be compliant with what they require for security reasons, and we’re not there.”

In his written testimony, Jackson recommended that North Carolina “participate in an appropriate interstate data-sharing program to help identify and remove registrations of people who have permanently moved out of North Carolina or died outside the state.”

Brinson Bell explained to Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) how the State Board handles duplicate registrations. It regularly checks names against death and felony reports from other agencies and alerts counties to update their rolls. Even when a voter is marked as “inactive” or “removed” during list maintenance, that voter’s history remains. Brinson Bell conceded that the data are hard for people to understand as seen in the “ginormous increase in public record requests and data requests,” but had no ready answer to improve conformity across data sets. 

Upgrading the election management system could provide enhanced security Brinson Bell also emphasized the need for updated software to respond to changing election law and ensure accurate voter lists.


The productive hearing made clear that the voters largely trust the system, and their trust is largely well-placed. Voter ID implementation, earlier deadlines for mail-in ballots, more robust checks on voter registrations, and clearer presentation of online data could all enhance the election system’s integrity and voters’ faith in it.

A transcript of the hearing can be found here.