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Saturday, December 29, 2018


NC-9's hot mess

by Tom Sullivan

North Carolina's 9th Congressional District stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the SC border (via Wikipedia)

The chaos in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District race may seem small potatoes compared to the maelstrom in Washington. But as of Friday noon, the state elections board dissolved with its investigation into election fraud allegations incomplete and the race uncertified, effectively leaving the district "home alone." Complicating resolving whether there will be a new election in NC-9 is the ongoing dispute over the makeup of the State Board of Elections between Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and a Republican-controlled legislature set to lose its veto-proof majority next week.

In another of those now-infamous Republican lame-duck sessions, the legislature in the wake of Gov. Pat McCrory's 2016 reelection loss re-structured the Board to dilute the incoming Democrat's powers. That matter has been in courts since Cooper took office. Nevertheless, the Board of Elections will decide whether or not to hold a new election. But the existing board, already granted an extension beyond its post-election expiration date, dissolved on December 28. A three-judge panel overseeing the board lawsuit ruled Thursday it would not extend the existing panel yet again:

In issuing its ruling, the panel made reference to the fact that the NCSBE scheduled its hearing into the 9th Congressional District on January 11, 2019, instead of by its original self-imposed deadline of December 21, 2018.

“The parties have not given even a cursory explanation as to why the hearing was continued from December 28, 2018 until January 11, 2019, let alone one demonstrating compelling reasons and substantial and reasonable justification, for not only the additional time needed, but the total disregard of the previous Order of the Court in extending the stay,” the order reads.
The Board might already have resolved prior to the new congressional session whether voters in NC-9 would have a representative seated or face a new election, the judges scolded, but it failed to act with appropriate urgency.

I have been putting off writing about this all week, gathering links along the way. Thankfully, Michael Bitzer gave a synopsis in a series of tweets on Thursday. Scroll through it if you have a notion, but Dramamine might come in handy. Bitzer explores the prehistory of the State Board of Elections dispute in a blog post concluding with this:
So, as of Friday, December 28, at noon, the 9-member State Board of Elections ceased operations, with Governor Cooper announcing that he would appoint a temporary Board of Elections to continue the operations and investigation for the Ninth Congressional District, while a leading NC State House Republican calling that the governor has "no authority" for such an interim board action.
All that drama is tangential to but also key to resolving the election fraud investigation in NC-9 and settling the last congressional election of 2018.

As things stand (if I haven't missed anything), the State Board of Elections refused to certify the results of the NC-9 election after seeing abnormalities in absentee ballot quantities, vote totals, and non-returns in Bladen County. Then in Robeson County. Finally, Columbus County in the adjacent 7th District, seemed to be involved in absentee ballot fraud. At the center of it all, a political operative named McCrae Dowless, 62, hired by Republican Mark Harris's campaign and other candidates to assist voters with absentee ballot requests. Convicted of insurance fraud in 1992, Dowless is now a person of interest in the state's investigation into an alleged absentee ballot "harvesting" operation.

On Election night, Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

NC Policy Watch summarizes what raised eyebrows:
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.
Reports suggest Dowless's team illegally gathered absentee ballots from voters door-to-door. Then Dowless either disposed of those from Democratic voters or filled in the ballots for them if incomplete and unsealed, and selectively returned ballots from registered Republicans for the Harris race and sheriffs' contests that hired him.

Only a direct family member may legally turn in someone else's absentee ballot in North Carolina. An attorney representing Dowless claims he has violated no laws, state or federal.

Incoming U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed the House will not seat Harris next week.

Sworn affidavits filed as part of the election fraud investigation reveal the tactics were part of Dowless's "new trick" for winning, one he mentioned to Bladen County Board of Elections board members, claims Ben Snyder, Chairman of the Bladen County Democratic Party. Dowless told them he was throwing ballots in the trash.

Several voters reported receiving absentee ballots they did not request. Jens Lutz, a former member of the Bladen County Board of Elections who had operated a political consulting firm with Dowless, affirmed:
It is my understanding that during prior election years, Board staff allowed Mr. Dowless to take and copy unredacted absentee ballot request forms, which include social security numbers, driver's license numbers, state ID numbers, and signatures. Upon information and belief, this information gave Mr. Dowless the ability to request absentee ballots for anyone who has ever voted by absentee ballot by mail in the recent past.


It is my understanding that Open Records Laws allow citizens to receive information from County Boards of Election regarding when absentee ballots would be sent to specific voters. Mr. Dowless abused this provision in the law by regularly receiving such information (contained in a report titled "Absentee Ballot Voter Correspondence Report") from Board staff, allowing Mr. Dowless to send his workers to those voters right after the ballots arrived.
Yes, of course, there is more:
In his affidavit, Lutz describes the Bladen elections board’s security as “lax” and claims there were “multiple instances” in which the actual absentee ballot totals didn’t match what the staff reported.

The allegations of lax security are similar to those of Agnes Willis, a Bladen County precinct worker who wrote in a Nov. 29 affidavit that early-voting election results were “viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges.”
This had the potential for advantaging Harris's Election Day get-out-the-vote targeting. Lutz explained:
I know of one person who claims to have overheard Mr. Dowless bragging about preelection candidate vote totals to multiple people after one-stop in-person, early voting ended, indicating that he was aware of the one-stop early voting totals, and that the candidate or candidates he supported were in the lead.
The State Board of Elections alerted state and federal prosecutors of irregularities in Bladen County in 2016. Nothing happened.

Allison Riggs, a senior attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told NC Policy Watch, “Since 2016 they have had information about criminal activity affecting thousands of votes and instead the U.S. Attorney’s office has concentrated on 19 non-citizens who made a mistake in voting and gotten one plea where he said, ‘I made a mistake. I thought I was good to go.’”

So here we are. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday night that under his executive authority he would appoint an interim board to carry on the inquiry until the new permanent board takes over on January 31, 2019.

NCGOP Chair Robin Hayes called Cooper's plan an “illegal sham.” MSNBC's Joy Reid last night called the situation in North Carolina a hot mess. The Daily Haymaker, a T-party blog published from the golf communities surrounding Pinehurst, NC, hopes state Republicans will nominate Jay DeLancy to the reconstituted Board of Elections. DeLancy runs the North Carolina Voter Integrity Project (VIP-NC) dedicated to promoting photo IDs and exposing voter fraud.

The U.S. House of Representatives has the ultimate say on whom it admits to its ranks. The voters of North Carolina's 9th Congressional District may not have a representative in Congress until late spring or early summer.

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Buckle up everybody. It's going to be a very bumpy New Year ...

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405