‘This is just a test to see if they can steal North Carolina from Donald Trump in 2020…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) The questionable get-out-the-vote activity of one soil and water conservation supervisor in an eastern North Carolina county of 35,000 could create a ripple effect that has national consequences if the state’s Democratic election officials have their way.
The disputed seat in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District has garnered national attention as one of the last remaining races to be certified from the contentious 2018 midterms.
But the circumstances under which it is being challenged—already contributing to the resignation of the state elections board chair and the appointment of a highly partisan replacement by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper—are likely to rival the shenanigans that transpired recently in Florida’s Broward County (population 2 million).
“This is a new chapter in North Carolina politics,” political scientist Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba University in Salisbury, N.C., and go-to authority on the state’s electoral dynamics, told Raleigh’s News & Observer.
From a national reporter who emailed me: “You have a very exciting state.”
My response: pic.twitter.com/9kYKOrJY14
— Michael Bitzer (@BowTiePolitics) November 30, 2018
While the numbers involved are much smaller than in the Florida election battles, the stakes in North Carolina’s Bladen County—and the implications amid a growing outcry from both sides of the political spectrum over maintaining election integrity—are just as great.
Charlotte ABC affiliate WSOC-9 reported that Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, held a conference call with potential donors to fight the well-heeled Democratic forces that he accused of trying to fix the election.
“They are throwing everything against the wall, and it is running up expenses for us by the minute,” Woodhouse said. “But you know they’ll steal it if they can… this is just a test to see if they can steal North Carolina from Donald Trump in 2020.”
Bladen County was only recently added to the 9th District, following a protracted, high-profile legal battle, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although the high court declined to rule, the decision by a three-judge federal panel to force the state to redraw its districts in a way that favored Democrats was interpreted by some, like CNN, to be a landmark ruling over political gerrymandering.
Despite a less favorable map and a substantial fundraising disadvantage, Republican Mark Harris won by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready on Nov. 6, and McCready subsequently conceded the race.
But the latest issue began when, during the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement’s routine certification meeting the week after Thanksgiving, NCSBE Vice Chair Joshua Malcolm introduced an unexpected, last-minute motion to delay certifying the 9th District race.
Following two hours in closed session, the board voted unanimously to wait until the following Friday while investigating Malcolm’s claims of irregularities in Bladen.
Three days later, after another three-hour closed session, the NCSBE held a brief public meeting, where it voted 7-2 to launch a broader investigation into irregularities with Bladen County’s absentee ballots, for which Malcolm had submitted several sworn affidavits.
At the center of the storm was Leslie McCrae Dowless, the elected vice chair of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District, who was hired as a get-out-the-vote operative for Harris through a now-dissolved independent contractor, Red Dome Group.
Democrats accused Dowless of illicitly fixing the mail-in absentee vote in Bladen County, the only county in the district where which Harris surpassed McCready in absentee votes.
To support the claims against Dowless, accusers pointed to his criminal history, dating back to the 1980s and ’90s, which included serving time for charges of perjury and felony insurance fraud.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, a Democrat who was herself re-elected this year to the position, said that a criminal investigation into voter fraud in Bladen County stemming from the 2016 election was ongoing, and that the 2018 accusations had now been added to it.
“There has been an open investigation throughout this [election] period,” Freeman told The News & Observer.
However, it is unclear whether Dowless was implicated in the original investigation or if it was, in fact, Democrats who were under investigation.
Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory had charged in 2016 that election fraud in Bladen and other areas helped swing the gubernatorial race in favor of his opponent, Roy Cooper.
So this is pretty weird. McCrory won Bladen County 52%-46%. But he lost absentee by-mail in Bladen 61%-38%. The only voting method he lost in the county. McCrory also won statewide absentee by-mail voting in 2016. Hmm. 🤔 Seems like more ?s to be asked. #NC09 #NCPOL pic.twitter.com/cL1Gdik4dw
— Brent Woodcox (@BrentWoodcox) December 4, 2018
Surprisingly, Dowless himself also filed a formal complaint over the 2016 election, related to his own seat, in which he alleged “a massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.” His complaint was later dismissed.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the complaints made against the Bladen County Improvement Association in ‘16 vs. the complaints against Dowless in ‘18. Same claims of improper witnessing as well as the potential of illegal ballot harvesting. #NC09 #NCPOL pic.twitter.com/kJKFbqHhD9
— Brent Woodcox (@BrentWoodcox) December 4, 2018
Despite the tangled web of political intrigue, Woodhouse, the NCGOP head, said the outcome is a simple one: Even with a narrow margin of 905 votes, the number of absentee ballots being contested still was not enough to impact the result of the election.
Harris won Bladen County by 1,557 votes, while only 684 mail-in absentee ballots were cast there in total.
“If someone is going to steal votes out of Bladen County, they have to steal well more than 1,000,” Woodhouse said, according to Charlotte NPR affiliate WFAE. “Because you don’t know what the margin is going to be … I mean that’s crazy.”
However, Bitzer told The News & Observer that the partisan elections board had the “discretionary authority” to call a re-vote if any “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the result of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”
To make matters worse, after the NCGOP formally complained last week about anti-Trump tweets from previous elections board chair Andy Penry, he resigned, and Cooper appointed Malcolm—the original source of the two motions to delay certification—as the new chair.
NCGOP chairman Robin Hayes issued a statement objecting to Malcolm’s elevation by virtue of the fact that it was his “score settling” that set the whole chain of events in play.
“Per usual, Governor Cooper takes a bad situation and makes it worse by continuing to erode confidence in the neutrality of the Board,” Hayes said. “Democrat Joshua Malcolm is the most partisan member of the NCSBE from either party.”
If a re-vote were to occur, some have said Harris may once again be caught off-guard by the Democrats’ political maneuvering.
According to Breitbart, “Harris and his legal team are not sufficiently gearing up to respond to the Democrat onslaught challenging the election results, placing his election day victory in jeopardy.”
Meanwhile, in a news conference Monday, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin deflected the GOP concerns raised over the apparent efforts to steal Harris’ seat, saying that to dismiss the voter fraud investigation in Bladen County would fly in the face of past GOP efforts to safeguard elections—among them, a recently passed ballot referendum to mandate voter ID checks at polling places.
Forgetting the Democrats’ dismissal of similar fraud claims against Cooper two years ago, Goodwin called the GOP hypocritical for objecting, reported The News & Observer.
“Now for years, Republicans have pursued voter ID as a solution to a voter fraud problem that doesn’t exist,” Goodwin said. “… Yet, the GOP has called for the board of certify an election where serious allegations of election tampering have been made. And the hypocrisy is unmistakable.”