More than a month after Election Day, one congressional race is still up in the air. The race in North Carolina’s 9th District has yet to be certified due to mounting evidence that dozens of absentee ballots were tampered with–primarily by an operative working to help continue a seven-decade run of Republican control in this district. It has been increasingly apparent that there is no remedy short of a new election. However, the state Republican Party seemed unwilling to come to its senses and accept this reality.
That changed on Tuesday, amid evidence of irregularities too egregious for even the most hard-core Republican to ignore. In the face of evidence that early voting totals were viewed too early and by unauthorized personnel, state GOP officials said this is definitely grounds for a new election.
The 9th was one of the first districts in the South to turn Republican. This Charlotte-based district and its predecessors have been in Republican hands without interruption since 1953. However, last month, the Democrats came closer to breaking the GOP hold on the district than they have in decades. Republican Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor who upended three-term incumbent Robert Pittenger in the primary, appeared to hold off a vigorous challenge from Democrat Dan McCready by the thinnest of margins–905 votes.
However, the North Carolina Board of Elections threw the political world into a tailspin on November 30, when it voted against certifying Harris as the winner. It later emerged that the board had received reports of serious and outright criminal irregularities surrounding absentee ballots in the two easternmost counties of the district, Bladen and Roberson. The reports would shock the senses of any fair-minded person–ballots being collected before being signed and sealed, people offering to fill out ballots for others.
According to multiple affidavits, the man at the center of this operation was Leslie McCrae Dowless, an independent contractor for Harris’ main campaign consultant. Indeed, two Bladen County residents admitted on camera in separate interviews with WSOC-TV in Charlotte that Dowless paid them to collect ballots and drop them off with him. Neither “harvester” knew what Dowless did with them.
Combined with reports from CNN that 1,000 or more absentee ballots may have been destroyed before being sent to Raleigh, there should have been no doubt that a new election was the only acceptable course. McCready withdrew his concession last Thursday, and has reopened his war chest in the event of a new election.
And yet, the state GOP refused to come completely to its senses. Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse indicated that he was willing to support a new election–provided that there was evidence “that the race could have been altered.”
That sentiment extended to Harris. After remaining silent for over a week, he finally spoke up on Friday.
Harris said he would support a new election if the fraud was egregious enough “that it could have changed the outcome of the election.”
Both Harris and the GOP seemed to have forgotten that the bar for calling a new election is much lower than that. Under state law, the board of elections can order a new election if it finds that fraudulent activities “taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness”–even if the fraud didn’t exceed Harris’ margin.
But a bombshell report from McClatchy’s Washington Bureau appears to have knocked the scales from the eyes of Woodhouse, Harris and friends. On Monday, McClatchy reported on an affidavit Bladen County poll worker Agnes Willis filed with the state board alleging violations of procedures regarding the counting of early vote totals. Willis claimed that some of her fellow poll workers tallied the county’s early voting results on November 3, shortly after the end of early voting in North Carolina.
That alone violated state law and state elections board policy that only allows early voting totals to be counted after the polls close on Election Day. But even more seriously, Willis claimed that the tally was viewed by “officials at the one-stop site who were not judges.”
The McClatchy report followed up on something McCready mentioned in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier that day. Watch here.
McCready claimed that early voting totals were leaked “to people who shouldn’t have seen it.” He added that such information was a potential gold mine because it contained “information that is strategic to a campaign”–including, presumably, information a campaign may need in the 72 hours before Election Day.
This affidavit was released by the state Democratic Party. But it hit their Republican counterparts like a thunderbolt. On Tuesday, state GOP chairman Robin Hayes issued a burning statement condemning the leak as “a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty and integrity that the Republican Party stands for.” He added that if this leak indeed happened, “this fact alone would likely require a new election.”
Woodhouse added his voice in a press conference later on Tuesday, saying that he and other state party officials were “pretty certain” that the leak happened, and that “a new election is appropriate” if it could be definitively confirmed. He also called for the state to take over running the election in Bladen County.
The most benign explanation for the North Carolina Republicans, at least and at last, coming to their senses is that someone must have realized that there are ways to cast doubt on the integrity of the election beyond fraud that exceeds the margin of victory. Woodhouse appeared to acknowledge as much, saying that it was “a competitive advantage that cannot stand.”
In recent weeks, we’ve seen ham-fisted attempts by Republican lawmakers in Michigan and Wisconsin to strip power from newly elected Democratic governors. It’s led to questions about whether the GOP really cares about the integrity of the process. Apparently they have, based on the North Carolina GOP coming to its senses and realizing the results in the 9th are irrevocably tainted. Better late than never.
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