At some point, you would think the embarrassment factor would kick in for North Carolina Republican leaders.
Someday. Maybe. But not yet.
For years, of course, the GOP has pushed restrictive voter ID proposals for in-person voting even though evidence of fraud in such situations is all but non-existent. As Bob Phillips of Common Cause recently pointed out in an interview with Policy Watch, there was exactly one conviction in North Carolina in the aftermath of the 2016 election for such activity; it involved a woman who tried to vote as her mother…for Donald Trump.
And, if you think about it, that lack of evidence makes perfect sense. As a practical matter, any attempt to influence an election by somehow recruiting a large criminal conspiracy of individuals – each willing to commit a felony or felonies by casting fraudulent in-person votes as someone else – faces enormous and daunting real-world challenges.
Nonetheless, right now, the General Assembly is plowing ahead with legislation implementing the ill-conceived and dishonestly marketed voter ID constitutional amendment approved by voters last month. And while the new proposal is an improvement over the hyper-restrictive law that GOP lawmakers attempted to impose upon voters as part of the infamous 2013 “Monster Voting Law,” it still seems certain to create new and problematic hurdles for hundreds of thousands of registered voters who lack state-issued photo ID.
All that said, one might still cut the GOP (the party of Vladimir Putin’s buddy, Donald Trump) at least a little slack if it had demonstrated a genuine, across-the-board commitment to rooting out all forms of fraud and misconduct that might conceivably taint North Carolina elections.
Sadly, but predictably, however, no such demonstration has been made. Indeed, it’s become clear in recent days that Republican leaders are ignoring serious allegations of genuine voter fraud in the recent election in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
Last week, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement declined to certify the results in the 9th District due to “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots.”
According to the Charlotte Observer and other news outlets, the controversy relates – at least in part – to Leslie McCrae Dowless, a man once convicted and sentenced to jail for fraud who was employed by Republican Mark Harris’ campaign as an “independent contractor.” According to an affidavit in Bladen County, Dowless may also have been in the middle of some highly questionable behavior involving absentee ballots.
Add to this the fact that Harris only outpolled his opponent Dan McCready by a few hundred votes and that large and unusual numbers of absentee mail-in ballots were never returned in the counties where allegations have been made – especially among Democratic voters – and it’s clear that something smells very bad.
According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, 75 percent of the mail-in ballots requested by African Americans and 69 percent of the absentee mail-in ballots requested by American Indians in Robeson County were listed as unreturned. According to attorney Aylett Colston of the progressive nonprofit Stronger NC, the non-return rate in one Robeson County precinct was 91.8%. Conversely, the overall non-return rate in the 9th District was 24% and even lower than that in the rest of the state.
Amazingly though, despite this troubling evidence, Republicans are opposing efforts to investigate.
Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse has blasted the move to investigate as unnecessary because, he says, allegations of fraud aren’t widespread enough to make a difference in the election. Meanwhile, GOP chairman Robin Hayes recently sent out a fundraiser in which he stated that “The NCGOP is coordinating efforts with all our partners and will move heaven and earth to stop the democrats’ (sic) morally corrupt attempt to steal this election.”
At a press conference on Monday, Gerrick Brenner of the group ProgressNC Action rightfully assessed the stances taken by Woodhouse and Hayes this way:
The GOP appears concerned with protecting elections when it’s a convenient rationale for making it harder for people to vote. But when protecting election integrity means investigating one of their own, the GOP wants to sweep allegations of election fraud under the rug.”
Let’s hope state and local officials continue to push ahead with all necessary investigations and that if significant evidence is uncovered to reveal that the election was tainted, a new election is ordered.
The bottom line: If Republicans really care about voter fraud and not just suppressing certain groups of voters, they will get on board with the 9th District investigation right away. Anything else is blatant and embarrassing hypocrisy of the highest order.
Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.