North Carolina Election F*ckery Just Got F*ckier

Last week, Yr Wonkette brought you the story of what looks like some seriously hinky shenanigans in the election for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, where Republican Mark Harris appeared to have beaten Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes. But the state's Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted last week to hold off on certifying the election, because there appears to be a hell of a lot of funky kicks going down in two counties, Bladen and Robeson. There were stories of odd people showing up at voters' doors to "collect" their mail-in ballots -- in unsealed envelopes, no less! It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone but the voter to submit an absentee ballot. And oh, golly, were there some statistical anomalies, as the New Yorker explains, because for all its vaunted fact-checking, the New Yorker isn't allowed to use the phrase "heinous fuckery most foul":

Bladen was the only county where the Republican prevailed in the mail-in-absentee vote, winning sixty-one per cent of the votes from mail-in ballots—despite registered Republicans accounting for only nineteen per cent of the county's returned absentee ballots. [...]

[Compared] to other counties in the Ninth District, a much higher rate of mail-in absentee ballots requested in Bladen and Robeson counties—about forty per cent and sixty-two per cent, respectively—were never turned in. In fact, those two counties had the highest rates of unreturned absentee ballots of any district in North Carolina.

Even smellier! The Raleigh News & Observer determined that in Robeson County, most of the unreturned absentee ballots were from minority voters: 75 percent of the requested ballots sent to black voters and 69 percent of those sent to Native Americans never got sent in to be counted, an unreturned rate completely unlike anywhere else in the state. Imagine that!

Political science professor J. Michael Bitzer, of Catawba College near Charlotte, explained how it would be possible to make a lot of absentee votes vanish or at least go in a more desirable direction, were one in the mood to do some felonies and shift an election. It would be easy to check public records and find out which voters had requested absentee ballots but not yet submitted them, says Bitzer,

It would not be a stretch, if someone made a concerted effort to look at each day's records, for that someone to find out where that particular voter lived, and then it would be easy enough to go and try to collect it themselves [...] Let's say, a voter handed over a ballot to a collector, and the voter had not secured it in a sealed envelope, and there was no vote in the congressional election. The collector could put a vote in. If there was a vote, but it was not for the right candidate, the collector could mark a vote for a second candidate and spoil the ballot.

Or just toss the ballots of suspected Democrats, of course. That's all hypothetical, of course, but it certainly fits with affidavits from several voters who said they had turned over their unsealed ballots to an official seeming person who assured them it was perfectly cromulent.

On Friday, Harris said in a statement the state elections board should just knock it off and certify the vote already, since "there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race." Of course, that's only if you're talking about the votes that were submitted -- but as Nate Silver twote in response, there are more than enough ballots that went missing in the two counties to potentially change things:

To add to all the evidence of fuckery, the Popular Information political newsletter got its hand on photocopies of 162 of the outer envelopes for absentee ballots from Bladen County from an unidentified leaker; and those envelopes just don't look right, no sir. You see, in North Carolina, absentee ballot envelopes, once sealed, have to be signed, and the signature must be witnessed either by a notary or by two witnesses. And this batch of Bladen County ballots, boy, election fraud, we don't know:

Typically, there would be a wide variety of witnesses for absentee ballots. A random assortment of voters chose to vote by mail-in absentee and then have family, friends or co-workers serve as witnesses. The ballots obtained by Popular Information, however, show that a small group of people served as witnesses for these Bladen County ballots. Some of the witnesses signed more than 40 absentee envelopes [...]

In all, a group of just eight witnesses appear on over 130 of the 162 absentee ballot envelopes obtained by Popular Information.

Several of those eight people "witnessed" signatures together, even. One pair signed 30 ballot envelopes, almost as if they were sitting at a table in a grim little office in an old strip mall with harsh fluorescent lights and a boombox playing the same Kid Rock CD over and over, and nobody remembered to bring another CD and who knows where the box for the CD is anyway. We're just speculating, mind you.

That is seriously Not Normal, according to Gerry Cohen, former special counsel for the North Carolina. It's not absolutely proof of fraud, but it sure looks weird:

Cohen pointed to the fact that many mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen arrived at the election board in clumps and affidavits from voters submitted to the State Board of Elections alleging canvassers collected unsealed absentee ballots. Those facts, along with the witness data from the envelopes, suggests there was a coordinated effort to take possessions of absentee ballots, which is illegal.

Ah, yes, and let's toss in one more AMAZING COINCIDENCE: Several of the witnesses are related to a gent named Leslie McCrae Dowless, a charming fellow hired by the Harris campaign as a contractor, according to affidavits. If Harris won, said one, Dowless would get $40,000 cash. He insisted on cash. Dowless was convicted in 1992 of felony fraud against an insurance company, not to mention a number of misdemeanor grifts over the years like kiting checks and failure to pay taxes. Public Radio aficionados may remember him from a segment on This American Life about absentee vote frauding in 2016:

He had some people working for him, getting out the vote-- volunteers, McCrae calls them. The volunteers, though, were allegedly getting paid for each ballot they turned in. That is illegal. One of the voters who signed an affidavit said that Get Out the Vote workers came by and had her family request absentee ballots. But then they never received their absentee ballots in the mail like they were supposed to. Then, when the family went to vote on election day, they were told they'd already voted. In essence, McCrae's getting accused of paying people to obtain absentee ballots, fill them out, and cast their votes on someone else's behalf. That, for sure, is illegal. McCrae says he didn't do anything wrong.

And now, Dowless just happens to be the focus of an investigation looking into more damn absentee election fraud in North Carolina. Innocent until proven and all that, but isn't that something? If the state board finds proof of fraud, it could order a new election.

Oh, yes, one other thing worth mentioning: Remember North Carolina's voter suppression law, passed in 2013 and found unconstitutional in 2016 by a federal court that said the law's restrictions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision"? The Republicans who passed that law insisted it was absolutely necessary to prevent in-person voting fraud, which is vanishingly rare.

Not a single damn part of that law would have prohibited this absentee election fraud, which is the one type of fraud that can sometimes swing elections. So yeah, we need to worry about election fraud. And Republicans doing it. Now all we need is Dinesh D'Souza whining about Dems trying to steal this already-stolen election.

Now it is your OPEN THREAD.

[New Yorker / Popular Information / Roll Call / Popular information / This American Life]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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