For years, Republicans around the country have railed about the need to combat election fraud–or, as they like to say, “voter fraud.” It’s how they justify their calls to make it mandatory for voters to show a photo ID at the ballot box. Never mind that there is voluminous evidence that suggests this is a solution in search of a problem. In North Carolina, for instance, the state board of elections recently found that a grand total of one vote out of over 4.7 million votes cast in 2016 would not have been cast if a voter ID law had been on the books.
With this to consider, the response from the Republican hopeful in a congressional race in North Carolina to mounting evidence that there was indeed rampant fraud in his race is rather puzzling. Or rather, the lack of a response.
On Election Night, the closest that the Democrats came to flipping a seat in North Carolina came in the 9th District, which stretches from south Charlotte all the way to Fayetteville. It appeared that Republican and former Baptist minister Mark Harris had nosed out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. The 9th was one of the first areas of the South to turn Republican. This district and its predecessors have been in Republican hands without interruption since 1953, and McCready easily came closer than any Democrat since then to breaking that streak.
It initially looked like matters had ended when McCready conceded the race the following night. However, the state board of elections threw the race, and the political world, into a tailspin on Friday when it unanimously voted against certifying Harris’ apparent win.
It later emerged that there were serious irregularities surrounding absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties, the two easternmost counties in the district. For instance, several voters submitted affidavits claiming that people were coming around to collect their absentee ballots before they were completed, signed and sealed. Others claimed that people offered to fill their ballots out for them. Both of these acts are blatantly illegal.
Any doubt that there was a rank odor surrounding this election was erased on Monday. First, Judd Legum of Popular Information stumbled on evidence that the same people witnessed multiple signings of absentee ballots.
Eight people witnessing over a hundred signings is curious at best. But what elevates this from merely being curious to potential election fraud is that several of them are relatives of Leslie McCrae Dowless, an independent contractor for Harris’ main campaign consultant. Dowless has been named by multiple witnesses as being at the center of the absentee ballot harvesting operation.
Joe Bruno, the political reporter at WSOC-TV in Charlotte, did some digging of his own on Monday and Tuesday which corroborated Legum’s findings. His own analysis found that the same eight people who popped up in Legum’s analysis witnessed 159 signatures. Even more damningly, two of them–Ginger Eason and Cheryl Kinlaw–admitted on camera in separate interviews that Dowless paid them to collect absentee ballots. Eason and Kinlaw both say they never mailed the ballots, but simply dropped them off with Dowless and don’t know whether he mailed them.
This isn’t just a smoking gun, folks. This is a thundering cannon. Indeed, the only question is when Dowless will be formally brought up on charges.
In light of these developments, what is notable is something we haven’t heard–as in any word from Harris. He initially demanded that the board certify him as the winner while the investigation continued.
That was on Friday. But in the face of nearly irrefutable proof that emerged on Monday and Tuesday that there was indeed shady–and outright criminal–conduct on his side, this is what we have heard from him.
Indeed, he hasn’t posted to Facebook or Twitter at all since Saturday, when he paid tribute to the late former president George H. W. Bush.
But wait a minute. Harris said himself that there is no “public evidence” of election fraud. And yet now we know that there is indeed such proof–and that a contractor for his campaign is indeed responsible. Any candidate with an iota of integrity, regardless of party, would have disavowed such outrageously criminal activity.
He would have also done something else–apologize and bow out of the race. It is highly unlikely that Dowless would have even attempted such a stunt unless the environment in the Harris campaign made it possible. At best, Harris was disengaged from his campaign in a way that a major-party candidate simply cannot be. And when that’s the best-case scenario, that’s not a good sign.
The state board is due to hold an evidentiary hearing on this scandal before December 21. Given the circumstances, that’s the only course. Indeed, it may be the only course, as the incoming Democratic majority in the House has made it clear that Harris will not be seated until the questions surrounding this race are resolved.
But whether there is a new election or not, Harris has no business being in Congress if he is not willing to condemn election fraud as blatant as this. If the board orders a new election, Harris should have the integrity to step aside and allow the GOP to choose a replacement. And in the unlikely event that the board lets the results stand, Harris should decline to take his seat. The people of this district deserve an election and a congressman who are untainted by fraud and misconduct.
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