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.
Marshall Tutor, who was lead investigator for the state Board of Elections for 15 years, said he frequently traveled to Bladen County over the years to probe accusations of wrongdoing. He said residents were often hesitant to talk to outsiders about possible voting fraud, much less testify.
“Looking back during my time at the Board of Elections, this mess in Bladen County, just from what I’ve seen and what I know, is the worst that I’ve encountered in the entire state,” said Tutor, who retired in March.
With the congressional race now under investigation by state authorities, the state has refused to certify the results of the Nov. 6 vote in the 9th District, where Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Both parties concede a do-over election might be needed.