Six months ago, election officials in rural North Carolina’s Bladen County resolved to tighten security at their headquarters and protect the ballots stored there by installing an alarm and video cameras and securing an unlocked door that leads to another government office. The fixes never got done before Election Day. The then-chairman of the county commissioners, who control the purse strings, did not see the need. Now Bladen County is at the center of a disputed congressional election rife with suspicions of fraud, including the possibility that absentee ballots were altered or discarded. While no evidence has surfaced to suggest ballots were stolen or tampered with inside the building, warnings about the potential for political chicanery in Bladen County were raised years before the burgeoning scandal dragged this patch of eastern North Carolina’s pine barrens into the spotlight.
Articles about voting issues in North Carolina.
A hearing on the North Carolina elections board’s investigation into voting irregularities in the state’s 9th Congressional District has been pushed into 2019. The N.C. State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement announced Friday that it will conduct a public evidentiary hearing at 10 a.m. on Jan. 11. It had planned to hold the hearing by Dec. 21. The new date means Republican Mark Harris is unlikely to be seated with the new Congress when members are sworn in Jan. 3. “The location and details of the proceedings will be released in the coming days. State investigators are awaiting additional documents from parties subpoenaed in this matter and finalizing the investigation prior to the hearing,” board spokesman Pat Gannon said in an email to media outlets.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would require voters to show a form of photo identification before voting in person, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.” The bill passed this month largely along party lines. A handful of Democrats voted for it, and the bill passed with veto-proof margins in both the state House and Senate. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in separate statements that the legislature will override Cooper’s veto. “We are disappointed that Gov. Cooper chose to ignore the will of the people and reject a commonsense election integrity measure that is common in most states, but the North Carolina House will override his veto as soon as possible,” Moore’s statement said. Voter ID has been a years-long goal for Republicans. A 2013 law that included a photo ID requirement to vote was overturned by federal courts in 2016. The GOP moved to add photo ID to the state constitution this year, and the amendment passed with 55 percent of the vote. In late November, Cooper said voter ID was “wrong for our state.”
North Carolina: Absentee-ballot fraud scandal speaks to wider issue of racism in North Carolina | The Guardian
One night last October, Jerry Ward, 49, was gathered with about a dozen other people at a relative’s house in downtown Bladenboro, a small city of just 1,700 souls in rural North Carolina. Then a young, white woman came to the door, asking about getting people inside to vote early in the upcoming and fiercely contested midterm elections. “It was a whole house full of us and the girl came after dark and she was like saying that we could vote early and we was about to fill in them papers but we didn’t. She said, ‘I’ll fill them out for you’,” said Ward who, like the other voters quoted in this story, is African American. The comment raised suspicions among those gathered, not least because in North Carolina, like much of the rural south, memories still linger about the fight for voting rights for black residents – and the equally fierce fight to resist them.
The group decided not to accept the woman’s offer. In the end, Ward voted in person. So did everyone else in the house that night.
They were right to be suspicious. After election day, which saw a narrow win for the Republican candidate, the North Carolina state board of elections announced it would not certify the results in the ninth congressional district in which Bladenboro sits. Within days, it emerged “ballot harvesters” had been hired by a veteran political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, to pick up absentee ballots in Bladen county, the local news station WSOC-TV reported. Some of those ballots never turned up.
It emerged Dowless worked for the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, who beat his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by just 905 votes. Shortly after, McCready recanted his concession of the contest.
North Carolina: As Election Fraud Probe Centers On North Caroilina’s 9th District, A Cynical Cloud Settles In | WGBH
Inside his barber shop in Bladenboro, N.C., Rodney Baxley is giving Bobby Simmons a haircut. The two men are talking about what everyone in this part of the state has been talking about for the better part of the past month: McCrae Dowless, and the operation he was running to get out the vote for Republican Mark Harris in the congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th District. “I don’t think [Dowless] cares about who wins, as long as he gets paid,” Baxley says, as he trims just above Simmons’ right ear. “He’s in it for the cash,” Simmons chimes in. Bladen County, where Baxley’s barber shop is located, is rural, about 150 miles east of Charlotte, and home to the country’s largest pork processing plant, Smithfield Foods. The North Carolina Board of Election’s investigation into possible election fraud has cast a dark, cynical cloud over the community here. “It just shows you how sleazy politics are,” Baxley says.
Democrats have been quick to argue that their losing candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s Ninth District may have been a victim of election fraud. But there might be a Republican victim as well. He is outgoing Representative Robert M. Pittenger, whose narrow loss to Mark Harris in the Republican primary in May is just about as studded with red flags suggesting absentee ballot fraud as the general election now under scrutiny. As with the November general election, most of the concerns about the primary center on Mr. Harris’s extraordinary success with absentee voters in Bladen County, a rural swath of southeastern North Carolina where L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a shadowy contractor with a history of suspect voter turnout efforts, worked for Mr. Harris’s campaign. In that primary against Mr. Pittenger, Mr. Harris won 437 of the 456 ballots cast through the mail in Bladen County; his overall margin of victory was only 828 votes. By contrast, in an earlier run against Mr. Pittinger in 2016, Mr. Harris won only four of 226 such ballots in the county. Mr. Dowless did not work for Mr. Harris in that campaign.
A proposal that would require another primary in the 9th Congressional District if suspected absentee ballot fraud results in a new election won legislative approval Wednesday. The requirement for a complete do-over in the 9th District is part of wide-ranging legislation that restructures the State Board of Elections and keeps information about campaign finance investigations secret. The State Board of Elections is investigating potential absentee ballot fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties. Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked as a contractor for Republican Mark Harris’ congressional campaign, is at the center of an investigation over mishandling of absentee ballots. Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in November, but the state board has twice declined to certify the results.
As evidence mounts of potential election fraud in Bladen County, WECT has learned this may not be an isolated problem. WECT has just uncovered that things in Columbus County may be even worse. About a third of the absentee ballots that were requested in Columbus County during the 2018 general election never got returned to the Board of Elections. That’s an even higher percentage of missing ballots than the unreturned ballot numbers that raised the red flags in Bladen County. There were 557 absentee ballots requested in Columbus County during the November election, more than double the number requested in Columbus County during the last mid-term election in 2014. Of those 557 ballots, 181 of them (32%) disappeared, and most of the missing absentee ballots were mailed to registered Democrats.
Bladen County election workers tallied the results of early voting before Election Day in violation of state rules and are accused of allowing outsiders to view them, a precinct worker wrote in an affidavit released by state Democrats. The allegations raise new questions about missteps in an election fraud case in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race that has garnered national attention and held up certification of the U.S. House contest. The report showing totals from Bladen County’s only early voting location was run on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 from 1:44 p.m. to 1:46 p.m., according to a copy released by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which is investigating voting irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties. Due to the investigation, the board has refused to certify the results of the election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The board plans to hold an evidentiary hearing before Dec. 21, but no date or location has been announced.
North Carolina: Why fraud allegations throw the results in North Carolina’s 9th District into doubt | The Washington Post
Mark Harris, the Republican who is the presumptive winner of last month’s race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, released a statement last week agreeing that a new election should be held in the district — if allegations of election fraud were shown to have possibly affected the contest’s outcome. That echoed a similar comment first made by the executive director state Republican Party shortly after the fraud allegations emerged. “There has to be enough votes in question to possibly change the outcome,” Dallas Woodhouse told the Charlotte Observer on Dec. 3. That’s not true. State law allows the board of elections to call a new election under four conditions, one of which is if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.” That’s a lower bar than the one Harris and Woodhouse are trying to establish. Harris and Woodhouse, of course, have an incentive to set that higher bar: Without a new election, Harris is going to Washington. They also certainly know that proving that the results of the election were shifted in Harris’s favor would be almost impossible. The fraud that’s alleged to have occurred involved employees of a campaign consultant named Leslie McCrae Dowless having collected mail-in absentee ballots and potentially either altering votes or never submitting completed ballots to the state. Determining the scope of those changes with precision would be difficult.