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Meanwhile, supposedly defeated candidate Dan McCready, who rescinded his concession yesterday, had the following conversation with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: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

Commentary

State’s two largest newspapers call for new election in 9th District

Raleigh’s News & Observer joined the Charlotte Observer today in calling for a new election in the 9th Congressional District that is truly fair, open and free from corruption. The extraordinary demand comes, of course, in light of the growing mountain of evidence that the November election (and quite possibly the May Republican primary) were hopelessly tainted by the appearance and reality of organized ballot fraud. The call comes on top of demands in the major Triad papers — the Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record — that state elections officials conduct a full investigation before considering certifying last month’s results.

Here’s the editorial (a reprint of the one that originally appeared in the Observer) entitled “Hold a new election in NC’s tainted 9th District”:

Calling for a new election would be an enormously significant decision for the board. It should be done with the support of N.C. statutes and without a whiff of partisan politics. Republicans from Raleigh to Washington would surely howl; already, they’ve noted that the number of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County falls short of the overall margin of victory in the 9th.

This is true. But witnesses have said that their ballots, which were collected by individuals apparently working for ringleader McCrae Dowless, were never submitted to the county or state. There’s little certainty about how many ballots were wrongly tossed or destroyed in Bladen County (there were more than 1,500 that were requested but unreturned) or how much Dowless and his workers may have done the same in neighboring Robeson County, as reports suggest. It might have been enough to change the outcome of the race. It might not have been.

That possibility, however, triggers a statutory threshold for holding a new election. North Carolina General Statute 163A-1180 authorizes the Board of Elections to intervene and “take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.” The board should call for a new NC-09 general election. The U.S. House can and should order a new primary, given that results show Harris winning a startling 96 percent of the Bladen absentee vote in his narrow 2018 primary victory over then incumbent Robert Pittenger.

Questions remain about how much Harris knew about the work being done on his behalf. Both he and his chief consultant, Andy Yates, contend they weren’t aware of any election fraud in the 9th District, but Dowless was well-known as a dicey figure in N.C. political circles. He’s a convicted felon who had been investigated for similar fraud in 2016, and he even was featured nationally in a This American Life episode. Harris, at the least, should have seen the smoke.

Voters in the 9th District deserve the confidence that their election was free from fraud. North Carolina statute supports it. The evidence already demands it. The Board of Elections should start the election over.

Commentary

Stephen Colbert holds forth on 9th District fraud controversy

Last night’s monologue on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert featured Stephen’s unique assessment of the electoral fraud controversy in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. According to Colbert, the man at the center of the mess–Republican operative and one-time convicted felon McCrae Dowless–sounds like “a man like that should not be working for a congressional candidate — he should be a congressional candidate.” Here’s the video:

Commentary, News

Incoming U.S. House Majority Leader: Harris won’t be seated unless NC deals with fraud allegations

In case you missed it amidst all of the hubbub and controversy surrounding alleged fraud in Mark Harris’s “victory” in the 9th Congressional District last month, the final say about Harris becoming a member of Congress will actually reside in Washington. As The Hill reported yesterday, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has made it plain that Harris will not be seated if things are not fully investigated and resolved here. This is from “Hoyer: Dems won’t seat Harris until North Carolina fraud allegations are resolved”:

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday warned that Democrats will not seat a North Carolina Republican if allegations of election fraud carry over to next year, when Democrats take control of the lower chamber.

Hoyer, who will be majority leader in the next Congress, said he’s hopeful that North Carolina officials will settle the controversy surrounding Republican Mark Harris, who has a slim lead over Democrat Dan McCready in a contest dogged by allegations of election fraud.

But if the issue remains under a cloud of contention — or if local officials certify Harris in a way viewed as partisan — Democrats will investigate the matter themselves before seating Harris, Hoyer said.

“The allegation is of serious fraudulent activity on behalf of the Republican administrator — one or more — dealing with primarily absentee ballots. … So there’s a very substantial question,” Hoyer told reporters during a press briefing in the Capitol.

“The House … has the authority over the propriety of the election. This is a very substantial question [and] it ought to be resolved before we seat any member,” he said.

Harris, who defeated Rep. Robert Pittenger, a three-term Republican, in the GOP primary earlier in the year, leads McCready, the Democrat, by roughly 900 votes in North Carolina’s 9th District, a conservative stronghold that has not seated a Democrat since the 1960s.

But a number of voters have emerged since the midterms with claims that their absentee ballots were collected illegally. One woman has said she was paid by a GOP operative to do the collecting.

Amid the allegations, the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Friday declined to certify the results.

Hoyer said he intends to talk to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who will likely be chairwoman of the House Administration Committee next year, about how to approach the fraud allegations in the district, but he was clear that if the controversy persists into next year, Democrats will not seat Harris.

“If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris’s being seated until that is resolved,” he said.

In other words, it’s way too late for Republicans to continue to argue that the election is somehow settled. Now is the time for all parties to support a comprehensive investigation of what happened with mail-in absentee ballots in the 9th District and, if necessary, arrange for a new election.

Commentary

Editorial blasts UNC’s planned shrine for ‘Silent Sam’

This morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer gets it right in its assessment of the UNC Board of Trustees’ proposed fix for the ‘Silent Sam” dilemma. It urges the trustees to reconsider and fight for what’s right. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s hard to imagine a more expensive solution for what to do with Sam’s remains, or one that makes UNC look more out of touch. At the same time that Duke University is removing white supremacist Julian Carr’s name from a building, UNC Chapel Hill recommends spending millions for “the construction of a new free-standing, single-use building with appropriate buffers and state-of-the-art security measures” to house a relic that history shows was initially raised with racist motivations. It was Carr, in fact, who spoke at Silent Sam’s dedication in 1913 and bragged about severely whipping a “negro wench” for insulting a white woman.

The proposal has the feel of a university administration afraid to go to the mat for what is right and what it and its constituents believe, and seeking to mollify its conservative Board of Governors. It surely faced an unwinnable predicament.

But Silent Sam deserves no place of honor on UNC’s campus. Even without it, the university honors students who died in the Civil War in a couple of places on campus, including on marble tablets in Memorial Hall. If the statue is to exist at all, it should be in an off-campus history museum surrounded by full context. With its recommendation Monday, UNC Chapel Hill meekly said that while it thinks the statue belongs in the NC Museum of History in Raleigh, state law forbids that and so it instead suggests the new building.

While the university is probably reading state law correctly, it could and should have urged legislators to reconsider the law, or to at least make an exception in this unique case. Given that it will be late 2020 at best before all the necessary approvals for the Sam shrine are secured, it is optimistic but not out of the question to think that could still happen under the new General Assembly elected last month or even the one to be elected in November 2020.

In other words, UNC Chapel Hill leaders would be much better off fighting for what’s right than trying to compromise with what’s demonstrably wrong.