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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 16, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Fraudulent ballots found in North Carolina

During the investigation of allegations that absentee ballots were tampered with in North Carolina’s tight congressional race, it has been revealed that many ballots were signed by the same group of people.

The investigation began when, following the election, The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement declined to certify the election results of the state’s Ninth Congressional District on Nov. 30. The results claimed that Mark Harris, a Republican and Southern Baptist preacher, had 905 more votes than his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready. For absentee ballots, Harris won 420 in Bladen County to McCready’s 258.

A set of 161 absentee ballots obtained by CNN on Dec. 3 showed that the same nine people signed at least 10 ballots each. Many of the people who signed these ballots appear to know one another, and some are associates of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a North Carolina operative who worked for Harris’s campaign. These findings were discovered by examining the public record and social media accounts, CNN said.

In North Carolina, a witness is required to sign an absentee ballot, and the role is typically filled by a family member or friend. Additionally, according to the state’s election law, only a voter or their near relative can physically hand in their absentee ballot, and any mailed in ballot has to be postmarked. A CNN review also found that three witnesses signed more than 40 ballots each, another signed 30 and three other people signed more than 10 each.  

Following the election and the start of the investigation, Dowless argued that it was impossible for the outcome to be changed, even after an investigation. He told The New York Times that it would be a disservice to thousands of North Carolina voters to change the election results.

“Mark Harris won that election,” Dowless said. “Mark Harris got more legitimate votes. Mark Harris will be the congressman, and any effort not to do that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.”

During the 1990s, Dowless was convicted of and faced jail time for fraud and perjury, according to court records. Over the past two decades, the Charlotte Observer reported that at least nine political candidates have paid Dowless for “get-out-the-vote work” or efforts aimed at increasing the voter turnout for elections. Regarding the most recent election, he denied any wrongdoing.

Jeffrey Smith, a former friend of Dowless, told CNN that Dowless has teams of people working for him to encourage people to fill out absentee ballots and collect them. If this is true, Dowless is violating the North Carolina election law of an absentee ballot needing to be turned in by the voter or a close relative.

“He gets workers to go get people to sign up on a sheet of paper for an absentee ballot,” Smith said. “Say you live in a Section 8 housing area, they will collect these requests. He says you don’t have to leave your house, you can just vote at home.”

In response to the investigation, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said Dec. 3 that the Republican Party should not stand in the way of the investigation.

“These allegations are incredibly serious, and if true, they outline a calculated effort to illegally undermine our free elections and to sway the election in favor of a specific candidate,” Goodwin said.

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke