Commentary

Editorials: 9th District mess demands more than just a new election

Be sure to check out a couple of fine editorials published in the aftermath of last week’s State Board of Elections ruling ordering a new election in the 9th congressional district. Both make a strong case that last week’s ruling needs to be just the first step in a reform process designed to attack absentee ballot fraud.

In “A good outcome in 9th, but will future NC elections be free of fraud?,” the Charlotte Observer puts it this way:

It stands to reason that there is not widespread absentee ballot fraud in other counties because complaints would have been lodged. But North Carolinians deserve more assurance than that. Are there robust systems in place to ensure there is no fraud? Are boards of elections and district attorneys and U.S. attorneys vigilant enough?

The end of the state elections board’s hearing should not mark the end of this case. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who has been investigating Bladen County’s role in the 2016 election and in the 2018 primary, should file criminal charges against anyone who committed a felony. Among those she should look at are McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County operative who orchestrated the scheme and his stepdaughter, Lisa Britt, who confessed to likely crimes under oath during the state board’s hearing. Harris himself admitted to misstating facts under oath and to potentially violating campaign finance law.

Freeman told the News & Observer’s Ned Barnett on Friday that her investigation will expand to include the 2018 general election.

NC Policy Watch quoted elections board chairman Bob Cordle as saying he hopes voters conclude from last week’s outcome that “sometimes the law works, and sometimes government works.”

It did in this case. Now let’s make sure it does all of the time.

Meanwhile, in “New 9th District election is just the beginning,” the Fayetteville Observer points out the worrisome lack of action on the issue from multiple officials, including Trump administration U.S. Attorney, Robert Higdon:

The testimony last week, capped by Harris’ own announcement that he believed a new election is necessary, was a blow to the state Republican Party, which has pushed aggressively to have Harris seated in Congress, all the while insisting that there was no evidence indicating enough ballot fraud to reverse the results of the race. While party leaders began their defense with sober acceptance of the situation’s gravity, that approach soon yielded to shrill demands that in retrospect pin a hypocritical label on the party and its leadership.

So do the actions of Robert Higdon Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Read more

News

Mark Harris asks court to force certification of 9th District race

Lawyers for Mark Harris are seeking to have the disputed 9th Congressional District race certified as an investigation continues into ballot fraud in the election.

On Thursday morning Harris’ lawyers filed a writ of mandamus with the Wake County Superior Court, seeking a court order the the State Board of Elections certify his victory in November. Harris also met with investigators from the board of elections Thursday morning.

Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Appeal (Text)

The board, at the center of its own legal battle, was dissolved last week and is composition the subject of partisan gridlock.

A hearing set for January 11 has been postponed.

Harris said that uncertainty made Thursday’s filing necessary.

“Our goal is to get certified by the state of North Carolina,” Harris said. “Without a state board of elections, we’re doing it in the filing that was done today.”

On Thursday Harris told reporters he saw no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the election and no reason he would not again hire Red Dome Group, the political consulting firm at the center of the alleged ballot fraud.

Harris said he could not say whether McCrae Dowless – a convicted felon, influential political operative and Bladen County elected official who state investigators say for years ran an illegal ballot harvesting scheme – has done anything wrong.

Multiple people have now come forward to say, in interviews and sworn affidavits, that they were paid by Dowless and his associates to collect masses of absentee ballots in the district. That’s  illegal because of concerns of tampering. A close race could be turned by either forging unsealed ballots or simply failing to turn in enough of one candidate’s mail-in ballots to give another a huge advantage among those voting absentee.

Harris admits he hired Dowless, who worked closely with Red Dome Group, the political consulting firm to which Harris paid $428,908 for work in the primary and general elections. But Harris said he had no idea that Dowless may have done something illegal and Dowless himself has, through an attorney, denied any of his work broke the law.

Harris narrowly bested incumbent Rep. Robert Pittinger in the May Republican primary and then appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes in the November general election.

The numbers, and Dowless’ documented history, raised suspicions.

Seven percent of the ballots cast in Bladen County were absentee mail-in ballots – the highest percentage of any the eight counties that make up the 9th District.

In the GOP primary, Harris won 96 percent of Bladen County’s mail-in ballots – an extraordinary showing against the Republican incumbent.

In the general election Harris took 61 percent of the county’s mail-in absentee vote in a race where only 19 percent of the mail-in ballots came from registered Republicans.

In order for that to happen, Harris would have to have gotten all of the mail-in absentee votes of the 19 percent of registered Republicans, nearly all of the unaffiliated voters who used that method and some of the Democrats who voted that way as well.

More than 3,400 of the mail-in absentee ballots requested by voters in the 9th District were reported unreturned, according to the state board of elections. Most of those were in Bladen and Robeson counties and can be tied to precincts with high percentages of minority voters.

Commentary

Editorial rightfully blasts GOP’s “erratic,” “silly” behavior in 9th District controversy

Dallas Woodhouse

Robin Hayes

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Playground antics don’t help resolve real worries about election conduct.” The essay rightfully takes GOP bosses Dallas Woodhouse and Robin Hayes to task for their bizarre and irresponsible behavior regarding the flawed election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The only adjective that the essay probably should have used to characterize the wacky Woodhouse/Hayes show is “Trumpian,” because most of what the pair has been saying makes about as much sense as a Trump tweet storm. Here are some on-the-mark excerpts:

The performances of North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes and the party’s Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse – amid efforts by Gov. Roy Cooper to keep state regulation of elections up and running – might easily be confused with behavior on a bad day at a pre-school child care center.

Their confrontational comments and inappropriate comportment came as a recent court order put the status of the State Board of Elections in limbo as it works to fairly and diligently handle the disputed election in the Ninth Congressional District. Hayes and Woodhouse don’t want an adult resolution. They want a schoolyard bully’s victory….

Their behavior has been erratic. In less than a month, they and other GOP leaders have: Demanded the Republican candidate Mark Harris be declared the winner; Supported a delay in certification of a winner pending a full investigation; Said the alleged improper activity tainted the Republican primary so there needed to be a full do-over and; Now, again, demanding Harris be certified the election winner.

In a silly statement Hayes said if he didn’t get his way he wouldn’t play, refusing to allow ANY Republican to take part in the interim Elections Board Democrat Cooper was forming. He took to playground name-calling.

After reminding readers of the seriousness of the allegations in the 9th District, the editorial concludes this way:

Republican leaders are emerging as a distractive sideshow to the very serious business of elections and governing. It isn’t entertaining.

It is past time for the state’s Republicans to shut down their not-ready-for-prime-time reality show. Stop the stonewalling. Stop the bullying. Join in building a North Carolina that welcomes a variety of voices and serves EVERYONE regardless of ideology or political affiliation.

Commentary

Calls mount for a new election in the 9th District

There were new and powerful editorials over the weekend that lent their voices to the growing chorus demanding a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The Fayetteville Observer put it this way in “Start planning a new 9th District election”:

Given the growing evidence that some ballots were tampered with and others may have been dumped and never tallied, we’re expecting the new election. And some elected Republicans are calling for a broader investigation that includes previous elections and other districts, noting that the 9th in Bladen and Robeson counties isn’t the only place where we’ve seen anomalies in absentee ballot tallies in elections that go back at least to 2010.

State elections officials have gotten complaints about such activities in the past and have forwarded the information to local law enforcement and prosecutors. But no one has investigated. Now it appears we have a sufficiently egregious case that it can’t be ignored any longer.

Good. Keep the investigations rolling and give them all the staffing they need.

And meanwhile, let’s start planning 9th District Election 2.0.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer made a strong case that a new primary is necessary as well. After explaining that similar vote tampering may well have occurred in the GOP primary in which Mark Harris edged out incumbent Robert Pittenger, the Observer says this in “McCready-Harris re-do isn’t enough; start over entirely”:

So the results of the primary are as tainted as the results of the general election. The state board of elections plans to hold a hearing the week before Christmas and could order a new election. But here’s the catch: According to former General Assembly counsel Gerry Cohen, the state board can order only a new general election featuring the same three candidates. It cannot order a new primary because it already certified the primary’s results.

That leaves it up to the U.S. House to do the right thing. Republicans can’t do anything in their final weeks in the majority. Democrats take over the House on Jan. 3. They might be tempted to hold only a new general election (cloaked in a deference to state authorities) because it could help them politically. Harris has surely lost some popularity over this scandal, so a McCready-Harris rematch could be appetizing for Democrats.

But it’d be the wrong thing to do. The House, led by Democrats, on Jan. 3 should vacate the election results and order a new election with primaries. Pittenger, Harris and any other Republican would be able to file (and any Democrat). Only that would provide the entirely clean slate that 9th District voters deserve. Some have even floated the idea of just naming McCready the winner, an absurd idea.

Absent a new primary ordered by the U.S. House, the only way Pittenger or any Republican replaces Harris on the ballot is if Harris moves to another state. If that happens, Republican officials would name a replacement. But Harris would have to move, Cohen says; he can’t just decline the nomination.

(A new election could leave the seat open well into next summer, and that’s unfortunate. But Cohen reminds us that Republicans who decry a lack of representation in the 9th were silent when Rep. Mel Watt resigned from the 12th District seat in December 2013 and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory kept the seat open for 11 months rather than hold an election.)

The problems in this year’s 9th District election extended back to the primary. The response must as well.

Commentary

New election all but inevitable now in the 9th District

It’s increasingly clear that the November election results in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District cannot and will not stand. It was one thing when state officials were starting to raise questions about the outcome, but now that the issue has gone national, there is no way of putting the genie back in the bottle. Yesterday, one of the most powerful men in the incoming House of Representatives, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, made it clear that a new election must occur. This is from McClatchy reporters:

Clyburn said he “absolutely” opposed seating Harris on Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes.

“I’m not too sure we ought not to subpoena (him), Clyburn said of Harris. “We need to find out whether or not Harris was involved in these discussions, and if he was, he ought to be disqualified as a candidate. So it’s not just about having a new election. We need to look at whether this man ought to be standing for election in this first place.”

Meanwhile, supposedly defeated candidate Dan McCready, who rescinded his concession yesterday, had the following conversation with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

MADDOW: At the moment, there is a lot of different ways to approach it.  It seems to me from the outside like bottom line, what happened here is that this is a professional operator.  There is a specific operator who works in Bladen County and maybe a couple of other counties in your congressional district who has made it his life’s work, who has made it his work for a number of election cycles now that for hire, he’ll stuff the ballot box.  He’ll rig the absentee ballot system and make sure that your opponents’ ballots never make into it the ballot box, and to make sure that a lot of suspiciously high number of ballots for you do get in there.  It seems like this was sort of voter fraud for hire.  Is that how you see it?

MCCREADY:  You know, I think it’s even worse, Rachel.  He’s not just an operator.  He is a criminal.  He’s a felon.  /// It’s  is amazing that my opponent Mark Harris went out and hired a convicted felon who was under investigation for absentee ballot fraud, to do his absentee ballot program.  And apparently he got what he paid for because Mark Harris didn’t just hire this felon, he actually recommended his services to other.”

Add to all of this the fact that national polling guru Nate Silver waggishly altered his assessment of the 9th from “leans Republican” to “leans prison” and that even GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse has all but conceded the necessity of a do-over, and it’s impossible to see how Harris could ever be seated. The real question at this point is, when there is a new election, will Woodhouse and other GOP leaders demand that Harris step aside and allow another candidate to emerge?

Right now, it’s hard to see how Harris remains viable.