A little over two years ago, I wrote a piece discussing voter fraud in America. More specifically, I explained that voter fraud is, more or less, fake news.
This was written in the context of Donald Trump, late in his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, attempting to cast doubt on the fairness of a potential loss – which at that point in late October still seemed a likely bet.
I explained how Republicans commissioned multiple studies over the past 20 or so years, trying to prove that voter fraud was a serious problem that required serious restrictions. And every single study eventually showed that voter fraud was more rare than lightning strikes and shark attacks.
Well, two years later, in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, running along the southern edge of the state up against the border of South Carolina, there’s some reason to think we might actually be seeing a real case of massive voter fraud. Well, more accurately in this case, election fraud. The kind on a scale that can – and may have – altered an election.
And in this case, the culprit appears to be Republicans. Yes, those same paragons of virtue who gnash their collective fangs endlessly at the notion of millions of undocumented immigrants lining up to vote, somehow undetected. Those noble souls seem to have benefited from some sort of electoral trickery.
A shock you say? How could this be? It’s not like any Republicans have ever been hypocritical before.
Anyway, we don’t yet have all the details, but what is known looks suspicious.
On November 7, nearly a full day after polls closed, Republican Mark Harris appeared to narrowly edge Democrat Dan McCready by just over 1,800 votes out of 281,889 votes officially cast. McCready conceded the election, and both candidates agreed to work together for the future of the district, and mouthed a few other bipartisan platitudes.
It seemed that it was just one close race out of many, overshadowed by the historic implications of the 2018 midterms. There was more talk about the House majority shifting to the Democrats than one Republican-leaning district in North Carolina remaining in the hands of the GOP.
But then, in the aftermath of the larger election, stories started leaking out of the district. In the weeks leading up to the election, multiple people in Bladen and Robeson counties near the South Carolina border reported people knocking on their doors and requesting their absentee ballots. Many of these people had received absentee ballots in the mail that they never requested. The ballots were often collected without having been filled out.
The fact that there were so many absentee ballots was unusual. In six out of eight counties in the district, less than three percent of the ballots cast were of the absentee variety. But in Bladen County, more than seven percent of the ballots were absentee. And to reiterate – this was one of the two counties where people reported strange visitors offering to turn in their absentee ballots for them.
And it gets worse. Throughout the district, in each county, absentee ballots trended noticeably more Democratic than the in-person votes. 24 points more Democratic, to be precise. But not in Bladen County. There, the absentee ballots were eight points more Republican than the rest of the votes. Based on the number of votes Harris received in Bladen County alone – he would have to have received the vote of every single registered Republican, every independent, and a sizable number of Democrats. This is in a district that ended up virtually 50-50. It should also be noted that Bladen County had by far the most requested absentee ballots that ended up being unreturned – even more than more populous counties.
At this point, it should be pretty clear why this stinks. The numbers stick out like a sore thumb. It’s possible of course, that this could be county-related. Bladen County encountered similar absentee ballot shenanigans in the Republican primary in 2018, as well as the 2016 general election. That could mean an issue with the county that doesn’t necessarily require fraud.
But it IS highly unusual. Certainly enough to warrant further investigation.
Now, it’s not entirely clear that these issues swung the election, even if it can be proven to be a matter of fraud. Over the course of the counting, that initial 1,800 vote gap was whittled down to just 905 votes between Harris and McCready. But the total number of absentee ballots accepted in Bladen County numbered just 684, and 258 of those officially went to McCready. So, in Bladen County alone, even if there was actual fraud from the absentee ballots, it would not have meant the “real” tally automatically indicates a McCready win.
However, as always, there’s still more to the story. In Robeson County, nearly 1,200 requested absentee ballots were never returned. Some of that is normal, but it is an awfully large total number, and it could indicate some sort of ballot destruction.
Between the two counties at the heart of this controversy, some 1,364 total absentee ballots were cast, and 1,673 more were requested and not returned. 3,037 total ballots against a 905 vote gap. So it is conceivable that absentee ballot trickery in two counties was indeed enough to throw a tight election.
Leslie McCrae Dowless, a contractor on the Harris campaign, appears to have been the architect of the requests for additional absentee ballots in Bladen County. Back in 2016, Dowless himself spent quite a bit of energy alleging voter fraud in his own race for soil and water commissioner – a charge he never proved, or which he even provided evidence. His questionable behavior raised some eyebrows two years ago, and it seems he can’t quite quit shady electoral practices. In recent days, a woman named Ginger Eason has claimed that Dowless paid her to pick up absentee ballots – which she said she had no idea was an illegal act. Since then, a second woman has come forward with an identical story.
The election itself has not been certified, and McCready has withdrawn his concession. The state elections board has a hearing scheduled on December 21st, and they could eventually recommend the district hold a new election. There are a few things not yet known. We don’t know just how much the Harris campaign knew about what Dowless appeared to be doing. We don’t know what happened to the unreturned ballots. We don’t know if other counties in the district were affected by any of this. It’s possible the state elections board could have some of that information by the 21st. It’s also possible they won’t need it.
So, I’ve thrown a lot of information out here. It’s all kind of ugly and suspicious. It certainly looks like potential fraud. But here’s the thing – this isn’t remotely what the Republican Party has been railing about since Newt Gingrich ran roughshod through the Capitol Building. Harsh and restrictive ID laws would have done nothing to prevent this incident from occurring. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from doubling down on more ID laws in response to what may be their own fraud. Indeed, North Carolina in particular has been a test ground for explicitly racist anti-voter laws pushed by the GOP. And, it should also be noted that while they have been crying voter fraud, what they appear to have committed is more accurately described as election fraud.
So, the Republican Party has pushed the “voter fraud is real and scary” lie on Americans for years, and when it finally looks like a form of election fraud might have happened on a large scale for real – um, looks like they’re the ones who did it. And as a response, they manage to lie about it, and then try to spin it as vindication at the same damn time.
I know, I know, calling the party of Mitch McConnell a bunch of lying hypocrites is beyond redundant. They’re hypocrisy-proof. This is the party that shut down the government over deficit spending (during a time when deficit spending was actually a good idea), and then proceeded to blow all budgeting out of the water as soon as they took power (and it was then a worse idea). This is the party that spent an entire year refusing to participate in the lengthy process of putting together the Affordable Care Act, all the while screaming that it was being “rushed through Congress.” For a year. And then, as soon as they ran everything, they spent a couple days slamming through a massive overhaul of the tax system without allowing the minority party a chance to read the whole thing. They tried the same thing when attempting to repeal the very ACA that they refused to work on.
So yeah, even that was probably a waste of a paragraph. We know the Republican Party doesn’t take anything about governing seriously. As long as people they disagree with have trouble participating in the voting and governing process, nothing else really matters.
There’s a whole other piece I want to work on about how the Republican Party has basically perfected the art of minority rule, and manage to run most of the federal and state governments while losing most of the votes (although 2018 cut into that a bit). That’s gonna be a long one, and I’ve already likely exhausted the patience of any reader by now. But I do want to say that a big part of how the GOP manages to control so much despite having lost 6 of the last 7 presidential popular votes is exactly what I’m talking about here. Not necessarily election fraud, as it’s still is a rare occurrence. But, by scaring the right people in the right places, they can pass laws which disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. They can play dirty tricks to keep their political opponents from participating in the system. And they can do more or less what they accuse their opponents of doing. Yeah, there’s more to it than that. As always.
But hey, it sure looks from here that a Republican operative managed to commit election fraud on a scale that his party has falsely claimed is a widespread occurrence. It remains to be seen whether it swung the election, or whether it will be overturned.
But we can say this; the GOP is really good at one thing. They’re absolute masters of warning us what they’re going to end up doing. Runaway spending, capitulation toward hostile foreign powers, corruption, extreme partisanship, and now voter fraud.
It might be projection. But we can treat it as a warning.