As evidence of serious election fraud continues to mount in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, and with calls growing to hold a new election, the prospects for GOP candidate Mark Harris of actually being seated are growing dimmer by the day.
But the damage done by this scandal goes beyond a congressional candidate not being seated. The whole affair taints the North Carolina Republican Party.
To begin with, the GOP in North Carolina have spent much of the last decade seeking to pass draconian voting restrictions that, according to a federal appeals court, targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision," based on the completely unsubstantiated argument that there is an epidemic of voters fraudulently going to the polls and voting multiple times under different names. In fact, they GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly is currently busy forcing through a new bill to restore those restrictions, at an estimated cost of $17 million over five years.
By contrast, as elections expert Harry Enten notes on CNN.com, the evidence that an illegal "ballot mill" in Bladen and Robeson counties tainted the results of the 9th District is overwhelming. Multiple sworn affidavits suggest that ballot harvesters improperly took absentee ballots from elderly black voters. When interviewed, some of these ballot harvesters admit they were paid to deliver the ballots to local county official and GOP strategist Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who was in the employ of the Harris campaign. Meanwhile, the absentee ballot statistics from this county make no sense — unusually high numbers of requested ballots were not returned, and of the ones that did, Harris won them 61 to 38 even though registered Democrats outnumbered the GOP in requested ballots 42 to 19.
CNN also reports that there has been an ongoing criminal investigation into voting irregularities in Bladen County since January, and that as many as 1,000 absentee ballots were destroyed — which means it could have been decisive in Harris' 905-vote win over Democrat Dan McCready.
The truth is, in contrast to the almost nonexistent crime of in-person voter fraud that Republicans have moved heaven and earth to block access to the polls to stop, absentee ballot fraud has been a known problem for years. But because absentee ballot voters tend to lean Republican, the North Carolina GOP has expressed no interest in any sort of reform or oversight of that system — in fact, their 2013 voter ID bill actually had a provision making it easier to vote absentee.
All of that is damning enough, even before the fact that it appears that North Carolina Republicans were actually in on this scheme — or at the very least, unknowingly providing the money for it.
In addition to Harris paying Dowless, MaddowBlog found that the Bladen County GOP contributed $940 to him for get out the vote efforts. Moreover, Dowless appears to have run the same scheme before — there were allegations of absentee ballot fraud in the 2014 campaign of Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker, and similar ballot irregularities occurred in the GOP congressional primaries of 2016 and 2018. Yet despite all this, the GOP saw fit to give him money.
Taken together, the facts of this scandal blow apart the GOP's credibility as a protector of election integrity — and demand immediate accountability.