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GOP Tells N.C. Elections Board to Certify 9th District Results Even as It Probes Election Fraud

Irregularities in mail-in absentee ballots has thrown GOP's victory into question

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris upset Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District GOP primary in May. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP)
North Carolina Republican Mark Harris upset Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District GOP primary in May. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP)

Republicans in North Carolina are pressuring the state elections board there to certify the 9th District results, even as officials continue to investigate irregularities in absentee voting.

Those irregularities, and a handful of sworn statements alleging illegal “harvesting” of absentee ballots, have led to accusations of election fraud for the benefit of Republican Mark Harris.

Harris, a Baptist minister, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 in the unofficial vote count. But the nine-person elections board voted 7-2 on Friday to delay certifying those results as it continues to examine inconsistencies in mail-in absentee ballots in the district, particularly in GOP-leaning Bladen County.

Harris and the state GOP have criticized the board for not publicly providing evidence that enough votes have been called into question to swing the outcome of the election.

The board’s 7-2 vote on Friday included a provision to hold a public hearing by Dec. 21 regarding its investigation.

“Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” Harris said in a statement Friday. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the Ninth District.”

McCready so far has downplayed the effect of potential election fraud on the outcome of the race, though he said in a statement Friday that he has “respect” for the board’s decision to delay certifying the 9th District results.

Instead, the Democrat has placed an emphasis on wanting to ensure that “any bad actors are held accountable.”

The delay and investigation has become a partisan touch-point between Democrats and Republicans in the state. The chairman of the board, Andy Penry, a Democrat, resigned on Friday, multiple outlets reported over the weekend. Penry cited a need to protect the public perception of the board’s investigatory integrity and to shield it from accusations of partisanship.

“The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy,” Penry wrote in a statement to the board, obtained by The Washington Post. “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”

Officials are collecting sworn statements from voters in Bladen and Robeson Counties about people who went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is illegal for a third party to turn in absentee ballots. Other people who signed sworn affidavits have said they received absentee ballots in the mail even though they didn’t request them.

An unidentified woman has been implicated in the affidavits for illegally rounding up absentee ballots from voters at their doorsteps. In two of the sworn statements, Bladen County official Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who has been wrapped up in previous allegations of voter fraud, has also been accused of wrongdoing.

One of the signed affidavits alleges that Dowless worked for Harris and would receive a $40,000 bonus if he won.

Officials have also begun examining Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in both the primary and general elections in Bladen County, where voters cast an unusually high number of absentee ballots.

Harris won 96 percent of all absentee ballots in Bladen County in his primary race against GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger back in May, far outpacing his margin of victory over the congressman in the county overall.

And in the general election, Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County even though just 19 percent of the voters who requested and received mail-in ballots were registered Republicans.

Pittenger, the lame-duck congressman whom Harris defeated in the primary in May, said last week he was fully aware there are “unsavory people” afoot in Bladen.

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