- Allegations of vote harvesting and potential tampering in the 9th Congressional District have thrown the election’s results into question.
- Evidence suggests that these activities may not be limited to this election cycle only.
- As the situation unfolds, a need for greater election security is clear.
More than a month has passed since the November midterm elections, but the outcome of the Ninth Congressional District of North Carolina has yet to be certified and made official.
Republican Mark Harris was the presumptive winner in the days following the election. He held a 905-vote advantage over Democrat Dan McCready. Over 280,000 votes were cast in the election, meaning McCready could have called for a recount due to the small margin. However, McCready conceded the race the day after the election, forgoing his right to a recount.
Evidence of potential ballot tampering in certain counties has emerged and cast doubt over the validity of election results. There may also be concern that similar events took place in the Republican primary for the same seat last spring, when Harris defeated Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger by an 802-vote margin.
From what we know so far, it appears that the Harris campaign hired a political consulting firm, Red Dome, to help with their campaign. That firm contracted with a political operative by the name of McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the controversy.
Dowless is alleged to have engaged in a tactic known as “ballot harvesting” – which is illegal in North Carolina. Ballot harvesting is the process of collecting absentee ballots from voters. Under state law, no one may submit an absentee ballot on a voter’s behalf except their immediate family members. Dowless and his accomplices are reported to have engaged in harvesting, which is supported by the large number of absentee ballots for which they signed as witnesses and also on some statements from community members in those counties.
Voters in North Carolina have the ability to request a mail-in absentee ballot if they anticipate not being able to make it to the polls on election day. Dowless and his colleagues are reported to have gone door-to-door persuading and assisting people to request an absentee ballot. This act is legal, in contrast to the acts of collecting and submitting the ballots.
If ballot harvesting occurred, it is an illegal activity and those involved should be appropriately punished. But an underlying question still lingers: what effect did the harvesting have on the election’s outcome?
This question hinges on the other actions of Dowless and his team. If ballot harvesting occurred, that is enough cause for concern. The act of ballot harvesting itself can subject citizens to harassment by ballot harvesters seeking to make their quota. It also opens the door to fraud; there is no way to know if ballots have been compromised once they are in the hands of harvesters.
Another possible scenario is that Dowless and his team changed people’s votes in the US House race or filled in blank ballots for that race. There were 840 absentee ballots accepted from Bladen County and 691 accepted from Robeson County. Depending on how many ballots were impacted, there could be enough from the two counties combined to change the election outcome. This would mean that 906 of the 1,531 total mail-in absentee ballots were altered, which is not outside of the realm of possibility.
The most alarming potential scenario is one in which some collected ballots were discarded. There were 1,747 absentee ballots requested in Bladen County and 2,433 requested in Robeson County. Between accepted ballots and those that were marked as “spoiled” by the elections board, only 52 percent of requested absentee ballots were turned in. In this scenario, the election results – hinged on a 905-vote margin – could be thrown into question.
Many questions emerge from the Bladen/Robeson County vote harvesting scandal. Were any ballots altered or disposed of after being harvested by Dowless and his team? Who knew about the harvesting and potential tampering? Why were the local Boards of Election willing to turn a blind eye and certify the race?
But perhaps the most important questions raised by this situation are outside the scope of this particular NC09 House Race: Has this happened in previous elections, potentially including the Republican primary for this seat? Have election outcomes ever been altered? Is this occurring elsewhere in the state?
Evidence suggests that this situation has been on-going for some time, although it had not been previously taken seriously.
Former Governor Pat McCrory (R) was involved in a complaint regarding similar events in those counties in the 2016 election. The State Board of Elections dismissed the charges, although they did refer the evidence to the U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
With the level of data availability today, there is no excuse for fraudulent activities to go unchecked for 2 years.
In fact, some groups, such the progressive Democracy NC, claimed that McCrory’s concerns over Bladen County fraud were “flimsy” and flippantly dismissed them as some sort of conspiracy theory. The group’s hypocrisy could not be more on display; their reaction to this scandal has been in stark contrast to 2016.
Hopefully, the ongoing investigations into the situation in the NC09 results will provide answers to the public in a timely manner. The citizens of the Ninth District deserve to have confidence in their Congressional representation. But this whole situation has exposed the lack of security in the state’s election systems through loopholes in the absentee ballot process. The state should fully investigate the issue at hand and glean relevant lessons to reinforce election security going forward.
- Vox News – https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/12/7/18128973/north-carolina-9th-district-voter-election-fraud-mccrae-dowless
- WFAE – http://www.wfae.org/post/mccrory-says-his-2016-warnings-about-bladen-county-voting-were-ignored#stream/0
- Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrat-dan-mccready-withdraws-his-concession-in-north-carolina-congressional-race-roiled-by-accusations-of-fraud/2018/12/06/79b6d4c8-f958-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html?utm_term=.ad9b79ebd47c