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The rats are only playing, honey.

It's a day ending in existential dread, so we have more updates for you on the squalid carnival of election fuckery in North Carolina. As you'll recall, it looks fairly certain a Republican operative illegally messed with the absentee votes in at least one county (probably two), putting in doubt the 905-vote "win" by Mark Harris in the state's ninth congressional district. The state board of elections refused to certify the results, and last week, Democratic candidate Dan McCready withdrew his concession in the race, calling on Harris to tell what he knew about the absentee ballot scheme and when he knew it. The operative accused of illegal ballot tampering, Leslie McCrae Dowless, worked for a campaign consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign, and has a long history of shady absentee-ballot operations. It's kind of his speciality.


A Whole New World -- Of Fraud!

The biggest news is that the state's Republican leadership now says it's definitely leaning toward having a new election for the congressional seat, which is an incremental move forward from the party's previous openness to a new election only if the state elections board found proof that the vote totals in NC-09 had been seriously changed. Conveniently enough, that new opennness to a do-over comes after the discovery Monday of a problem with election results that appears -- so far -- to be independent of Dowless's mail-in vote scam. Seems that at the only early voting location in Bladen County, election workers ran the early vote totals on the Saturday before the election instead of at the end of election day, as required by state law. Ah, yes, and the results of the early voting were seen by people who shouldn't have seen them, oopsies!

"On Saturday, 11/3/18, the last day of early voting, the 'tape' showing election results at the one-stop polling site was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges. It is my understanding that this was improper," precinct worker Agnes Willis wrote in a affidavit dated Nov. 29.

Ms. Willis -- a registered Democrat, if that matters -- was one of the three witnesses who signed that tape, which was released by the state board of elections. Willis's affidavit didn't identify the "officials" who got an unauthorized peek at those early vote results, but it certainly appears every Republican in Bladen County knows every other Republican there. Should be pretty interesting to find out whether Willis can identify who got an early look at the early vote.

Wouldn't you know it, Dowless was also once a business partner with one of Bladen's top elections officials, Jens Lutz, who resigned his position when the vote scandal broke. Lutz, we should add, says he only worked with Dowless to "figure out how he was operating," and actually warned voters this year not to hand over their absentee ballots to anyone claiming to be collecting them to turn in. So maybe everything is just fine! Dowless's operation was based in Bladen County, of course, where he ran the mail-in "get out (or make up) the vote" effort not just for Harris, but also for incumbent Sheriff Jim McVicker.

Just as a reminder, Harris "won" the mail-in vote in Bladen County with 61 percent, even though absentee ballots "from" registered Republicans totaled just 19 percent of the mail-in vote.

In any case, the executive director of the state GOP, Dallas Woodhouse, told local teevee station WCTV the Rs would now call for a new election, because look at that shocking electoral malfeasance that isn't (yet) tied to Dowless. Woodhouse also said he didn't believe Bladen County election officials can properly run any new election, and called on the state board of elections to oversee a do-over if it happens.

The Charlotte Observer also notes that on Monday, McCready cited the possibility the early vote totals had leaked as one example of why a new election is called for, though :

"The Bladen County Board of Elections may have leaked early vote information to people who weren't supposed to see it," McCready said. "That's information that is strategic to a campaign, that is an important factor in how a campaign spends resources, all that sort of thing."

Finally some bipartisan agreement! Leaking early vote totals is bipartisanly bad, especially if it means Republicans can pretend that's the real reason to redo the election. We have a feeling McCready isn't about to let anyone forget who Dowless worked for, though.

Bullets Dodged

Some brief, encouraging election mcnuggets!

Numero Uno: Although voters passed a Voter ID law in November, the Raleigh News and Observer reports that if a new election is held, "voters won't have to show photo identification," which seems quite fair.

Numero Two-o: In a bill reconfiguring the state elections board (to comply with a court order unrelated to the current fuckery), the North Carolina lege did not include an amendment that would have required a new primary election in NC-09 if the state board requires a do-over of the general election. The amendment had been offered by Republican state Rep. David Lewis, who said that since there's evidence Dowless may have messed with absentees in the primary, then voters should be able to pick a new R candidate if they want. That amendment generated concerns that Republicans might be trying to hold onto the seat by replacing Harris, who has denied knowing anything about any fraud but who's been tainted by the scandal. Rep. Lewis said he simply couldn't get the votes for the amendment, and the bill will go to a vote today. Democrats warn that the bill doesn't provide enough transparency in investigating campaign finance violations, since it would refer investigations to local officials -- and, oh, golly, looks like local officials in Bladen County didn't notice all that frauding by Dowless, huh? Bob Hall, retired executive director of Democracy NC, isn't a fan:

"I think the Bladen County situation illustrates the problem with letting local DAs and sheriffs be in control of the investigations involving local political organizations, local campaigns and local operatives," Hall said. "It's too incestuous. You need to take it out of that arena."

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, hasn't said whether he'll sign the bill.

Numero Trois: Whatever changes do get made to the structure of the state elections board, they won't go into effect until its investigation of the November fuckery is completed. And that investigation won't have to be rushed, either -- while the board had promised to finish up and hold a hearing by December 21 on the mess in NC-09, a panel of judges authorized the board to push that back until December 28. Considering the state's Republicans have gone from insisting Harris be proclaimed the winner, no takebacks, to calling for a new election in just over a week, that seems like a good call, even with Sacred Baby Festival sandwiched into the extra week.

What? More Dowless Crap?

In yet another affidavit linking ol' McCrae Dowless (he goes by his middle name) to highly questionable campaign activities, another Bladen County voter says he and his wife saw Dowless at a campaign event holding a huge whoppin' pile of absentee ballots, which is the sort of thing you don't see every day.

In the signed statement, Kenneth Simmons said that he met Dowless at a local Republican Party meeting in the small town of Dublin [...]

Simmons stated that he asked Dowless why he had so many ballots and that Dowless responded that he was holding onto more than 800. Simmons wrote that he "asked him why he had not turned them in" and that Dowless replied: "you don't do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up."

"My concern," Simmons concluded at the end of his affidavit, "was that these ballots were not going to be turned in."

800 ballots is rather a lot of ballots to be holding onto. Particularly since there were only 684 mail-in ballots "cast" in Bladen County in total. Of course, in Bladen and next-door Robeson counties, there were over 1,600 absentee ballots requested by voters that were never actually cast, the highest non-return rate in the state.

If Simmons's accusation can be verified, it means big trouble for Dowless, since it's a felony in North Carolina for anyone but a close relative to turn in an absentee voter's ballot. That's even if Dowless and and his crew didn't falsify any votes, although the very first accusations of fraud involved a member of Dowless's team telling a voter she'd fill out the voter's ballot for her.

Yr Wonkette will keep you updated on the continuing fucktangle of something nasty in the woodshed as it develops. By the time this is over, we half expect the Rs to demand the exhumed corpse of Jesse Helms be seated in NC-09.

[Charlotte Observer / WRAL / Raleigh News & Observer / WBTV / News & Observer / NBC News]

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