December 06, 2018

When Gerrymandering Isn’t Enough

Voter fraud in North Carolina may result in new general election

by Susan E. Stutz

Photo by Philippe Krief on Unsplash

Driven mostly by western states, vote-by-mail has been available in the United States since the early 1980’s when the Oregon legislature approved a test for local elections. Since that time, more than half of all states have included absentee-voting as one of several ways to cast votes in local and national elections.

Source: NCSL

During the recent midterms, Get Out The Vote canvassers touted vote-by-mail as one of the best ways to insure that every vote counted. Those who knocked on doors, educated voters about the ways in which they could vote, and chased ballots in the days and weeks leading up to the midterms certainly didn’t expect to hear tales of how those efforts led to acts of voter suppression instead of liberation. As one of the last midterm elections to be certified by its’ Secretary of State, North Carolina’s Congressional District 9 race is just such a tale.

What Happened?

Republican candidate, Mark Harris won North Carolina’s Congressional District 9 by 905 votes. He didn’t do it the old-fashioned way: by relying on the state’s history of Republican gerrymandering to get him across the finish line. Instead, he employed Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., a man with a history of involvement in Bladen County politics and claims of voter fraud. In 2016, he accused Democrats of voter fraud. However, during his testimony before the Elections Board, Dowless plead the Fifth when asked if he had ever paid people to collect, complete, and turn in absentee ballots.

North Carolina has rules about its absentee ballots. They must be signed, those signatures must be witnessed by two individuals, and only the elector is supposed to return the completed ballot to their Supervisor of Elections office. For many voters in the Tar-Heel state, the process of voting went a little differently than it should and that difference may have led to Harris’ narrow win.

It appears from affidavits provided in the on-going investigation, Dowless — on behalf of Harris — employed groups of republican operatives to go to the homes of voters and collect their ballots. This is illegal. Many times the ballots were incomplete and those doing the collecting offered to finish them. You guessed it, illegal. And, many of these ballots lacked signatures or if they were signed, the same group of people witnessed a large number of them which is a significant improbability. The collected ballots were then handed off to Dowless and no one, except presumably Dowless, knows what happened to them. Considering that there are 3,400 unaccounted-for absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties, the whereabouts of the ballots given to Dowless is hugely problematic. Dowless is individually named in several of the affidavits and a couple of the individuals who witnessed multiple ballots say they worked with him.

Also, there was money to be made. According to one of the women collecting the ballots, who claims to be friends with him, Dowless paid $75 — $100 per week to the campaign’s little helpers. An additional affidavit states that Dowless was to receive a $40,000 payment if Harris won which is also illegal as campaign employees are not permitted to receive bonuses. Another affidavit speaks to an overheard conversation involving Dowless himself discussing the fact that he had employed 80 people to collect ballots in Harris’ race.

And now we wait…

The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics will conduct a closed evidentiary hearing on or before December 21 in an effort to determine whether or not the election results stand as-is, are to be discarded, or if the people of District 9 get a do-over.

Tell Your Government What You Think

If you’re in North Carolina, send the word STATE to Resistbot to let your state legislature know if you’d like them to weigh in on the issue. If you’re not from North Carolina, you can still reach out to your own officials at the STATE level, or the federal level by sending RESIST to the bot. In many cases there’s plenty going on closer to home. You can write to your government about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.

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