‘This is a fiasco that could’ve been prevented…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) As evidence mounted that a maverick campaign contractor working for the Republican in a tightly contested North Carolina congressional district may have committed ballot fraud, GOP leaders in the state legislature said they support an investigation while insisting on a nonpartisan solution to fix the state’s longstanding fraud issues.
Republican State Sens. Dan Bishop, Tommy Tucker, and Paul Newton said during a press conference Thursday that an independent task force was needed to address concerns of absentee ballot fraud, which the increasingly partisan elements on the State Board of Elections (NCSBE) have failed to resolve over at least the past four election cycles.
Despite parallels between the suspicious activity in Bladen County—and other counties—that helped give current N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, the absentee-ballot advantage in 2016 over then-incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the 2018 operations in the 9th District congressional race that gave Republican Mark Harris the edge over Democratic opponent Dan McCready, the NCSBE’s inconsistent actions lent a waft of “taint” to the process that further eroded electoral confidence, said the GOP legislators.
Bishop said newly appointed Democratic NCSBE Chair Joshua Malcolm, who last week filed 11th-hour motions to delay certifying the 9th District race, pending investigation, was the same board member who had motioned to dismiss an investigation in 2016, when the outcome of the alleged ballot fraud favored Cooper.
“That [problem of ballot fraud] has been mentioned to investigative authorities … but [it] was the subject of ridicule rather than investigation,” Bishop told Liberty Headlines ahead of the press conference.
The central issue, he said, was a long history of fraud in Bladen County—which was only added to the 9th District since the last election as the result of Democrat-led, court-forced gerrymandering to undo the state legislature’s 2011 congressional map.
Often, the apparent fraud there has broken in favor of the Democrats, including allegations of “a massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots” that some say was orchestrated in 2016 by the Democrat-funded Bladen County Improvement Association.
The Bladen County Improvement Association was funded in 2016 by the @NCDemParty and some of their prominent statewide candidates, including Mike Morgan and June Atkinson. #NC09 #NCPOL pic.twitter.com/u0kHBM9JBB
— Brent Woodcox (@BrentWoodcox) December 4, 2018
Those crying foul in the current congressional race point to discrepancies between Harris’s absentee vote in Bladen and elsewhere, along with several sworn witness allegations that McCrae Dowless, an independent “get-out-the-vote” contractor working with the Harris campaign, paid people to collect unsealed absentee ballots.
But others point out that the same sort of questions plagued Cooper’s 2016 election, where he won Bladen’s mail-in absentee vote by a margin of 61 percent over McCrory’s 38 percent, despite McCrory having won the county overall by a margin of 52 percent to Cooper’s 46 percent.
McCrory charged widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election, resulting in some recounts, but after those re-examinations continued to add significantly to Cooper’s margin, he ultimately dropped his challenge and conceded.
McCrory told Charlotte ABC affiliate WSOC that he wasn’t at all surprised that political shenanigans are once again tarnishing the integrity of the state elections.
“This is a fiasco that could’ve been prevented,” he said. “… Those complaints were well known in 2016, and there were obviously some who didn’t want it investigated.”
At Thursday’s press conference, the three state senators attempted to strike a bipartisan tone, condemning fraud on both sides. “The allegations in the congressional race make me sick, and Republicans must hold their own accountable for any confirmed fraud,” said Tucker. “By the same token, Democrats must identify and condemn any fraud in their party.”
Tucker said jail time or ethics investigations should be on the table for those found to have knowingly engaged in fraud, but he doubted that every politician who contracted with Dowless as a GOTV operative had vetted him as extensively as the media now has. He pointed out that Dowless had worked on Democratic campaigns as well.
The senators also declined to rule out the possibility of a re-vote in the current investigation, if the investigation shows that the fraudulent ballots in question exceeded Harris’ 905-vote margin of victory over McCready. That would require evidence of fraud in more than just Bladen County, which cast a total 0f 684 mail-in ballots.
But despite the spirit of reconciliation they expressed at the press conference—seeking to work with Cooper to investigate and resolve issues in time for the 2020 election—the Republican lawmakers worried about the motives of the Left, given their bad-faith actions leading up to the current crisis.
Some have speculated that even if the result of the NCSBE investigation does not show clear evidence that would overturn the Nov. 6 election, the partisans controlling the board, with Cooper’s support, may attempt to use a broad interpretation of state code to force a re-vote. Democrats could then direct additional outside resources into swinging the race for McCready.
Bishop told Liberty Headlines that in light of a nationwide pattern of post-election challenges often reversing outcomes that favored GOP candidates, he wouldn’t be surprised if the NCSBE investigation turned up new irregularities that would be just enough to surpass Harris’ margin of victory.
In many instances, “it’s not that votes are fraudulent,” Bishop said, “it is, case after case, that ballots continue to be ‘found.'”
Like McCrory, Harris now faces the daunting prospect of defending his seat against the legal and political maneuverings of a well-oiled and well-funded national Democratic apparatus.
“There’s this sort of swarm” that often gives Republicans in such fights the feeling of being beset on all sides, Bishop said.
Both Bishop and Tucker said at the press conference that they had spoken with Harris’ team but could not disclose the conversations.
Beyond offering political solutions like the bipartisan taskforce and others floated at the press conference—including a statewide absentee ballot database and the possibility of an investigation in the General Assembly—the legislators’ hands may be tied.
However should the GOP’s overtures for bipartisan cooperation to resolve the fraud issues break down, Bishop said that Cooper can expect state Republicans to be ready to go toe-to-toe and continue to press the dubious circumstances surrounding the governor’s own election.
“We’re sort of here to serve notice, if you will,” Bishop told Liberty Headlines. “If the governor is going to make the election machine a bare-knuckles political operation, we are going to call it out.”