North Carolina Voter Theft Highlights Need for Election Reform

Missing and possibly fraudulent absentee ballots in North Carolina highlight need for voting reforms.

After a series of issues we’ve seen with voter suppression in during last month’s elections, the race Between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris just might lead to a follow-up election in North Carolina’s 9th district.

Serious issues are amiss in the Tar Heel state. A convoluted scam may have been in the works that led to the theft of hundreds of votes from African-American and Native American voters in district 9.

The Board of Elections in North Carolina have declined to certify elections twice for the 9th Congressional district with numbers showing that hundreds of absentee ballots may be missing or tampered with. The number of absentee ballots submitted in 2018 is far lower than in previous elections, with the majority of those missing being from African-American and Native American voters.

It has been reported that individuals visited the homes of African-American and Native American voters, offering to fill out and drop off absentee ballots. But it’s illegal in the state of Carolina for outside organizations to collect and drop off ballots unless the voters are disabled.

Allison Riggs from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice mentioned in her interview with MSNBC that this isn’t simply voter fraud, it’s voter theft.

The primary county votes in question come from Bladen County where election officials say the numbers just don’t match up.

McClatchy reporter Brian Murphy, noted that more than 40% absentee ballot requests made by African Americans and 60% of those requested by Native Americans were not returned, compared to only 17% of ballots submitted by white voters. Those numbers are drastically different than previous elections in Bladen County, and in comparison with other counties in the district.

Source: Michael Bitzer, Old North State Politcs, submitted to Vox News.

The only county Harris won in the absentee ballot count was Bladen. Bladen County has a high number of minority and Democratic voters, setting off red flags with the county’s Board of Elections.

Not only are there missing ballots, but many ballots also appear to have been tampered with. In addition, the founder of ThinkProgress, Judd Legum,  uncovered information that ballots may have been tampered with. North Carolina requires two witness signatures on an absentee ballot envelope. Judd posted in a series of Tweets that he had received images of 162 absentee ballot envelopes that showed just 8 individuals had acted as witnesses on the 130 ballot images he had received. Legum also claims the signatures are from relatives of the man at the center of this investigation, Leslie McCrae Dowless, an elected official who is vice-chair of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District, and who worked for Harris’ campaign. Affidavits claim that Dowless hired people to collect absentee ballots from voters’ homes and worked in conjunction with the Harris campaign. Dowless has also worked for more than 100 campaigns over the span of two decades.

Unfortunately, it’s not only the general election under question that Dowless had a hand in. Issues have been found with the primary election as well. In the Republican primary, Harris won 437 absentee ballot votes while the challenger Robert Pittenger only had 17. The primary race, which was only decided by a margin of roughly 800 votes, moved Harris on to the general election, where we now see similar issues.

The Republican Party, who have been quick to claim voter fraud without basis in the the past, are now silent or contrarian in the face of actual founded concerns in North Carolina’s 9th district race.

The GOP continues to support legislation that suppresses the vote including a current Voter I.D. bill being proposed in North Carolina that many claim is nothing more than a poll tax designed to disproportionately affect the African-American and Native American vote. They are also fighting against changes to the heavily gerrymandered districts in North Carolina, prompting a U.S. district court to rule that the map was unconstitutional after a 2011 ruling that the districts need to be redrawn as the maps purposely created a party advantage for Republicans.  

North Carolina Democratic party leaders are calling for a full and transparent investigation into the 2018 elections and this case. In light of the possible tampering with the primaries, Democratic party leaders suggest a re-election might be considered.

Although this case is unique, voter suppression is a tactic that was used across the country in 2018. Election reform is paramount to success in the 2020 elections. Reforms must be made across the nation on both the state and Federal levels to end gerrymandering, address unfair voter I.D. laws, address issues with ballot access, safeguard our election process and to ensure, fair, transparent and uncorrupted elections for every American voter.

We need a Brand New Congress who will support voter rights and these changes must be made so races are fair for every candidate on the ballot and the voice of the American people is truly represented.

Zeynab Day is Deputy Director of Communications at Brand New Congress, from Southeastern Kentucky, who is dedicated to the BNC mission and progressive values.

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