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.
The data we do have, though, suggest the possible change to votes in two counties — Bladen and Robeson — might have been enough to change the result of an election in which Harris leads by 905 votes.
There are two aspects to the vote in those counties that have drawn scrutiny. The first is the margin by which Harris won the mail-in absentee vote in Bladen County over Democrat Dan McCready. The second is the number of requested mail-in ballots that weren’t returned in those two counties.
Dowless’s effort, reporting has indicated, included having his employees get voters to request mail-in ballots and then to collect them — not necessarily after they were completed — for submission to the state. If Dowless and his team had access to those ballots, they could either have added votes for Harris to blank ballots or thrown away ballots that were already marked for McCready. In the first case, Harris might overperform in a county. In the second, McCready might underperform.