Politics & Government

Curious NC: Answering your questions about alleged election fraud in the 9th district

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Updated at 2:50 p.m. Dec. 17 with new information concerning pending legislation on voter ID.

The results of the election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border, have not been certified by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

The board is investigating allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties and has issued subpoenas to the campaign of Republican Mark Harris, the apparent winner of the election by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.

There are lots of questions about what is happening — and what might happen — with the election. CuriousNC, a joint venture between The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun invites readers to submit questions about North Carolina for our reporters to answer.

We have collected several questions about the election fraud allegations and are accepting more.

• Question: Why would anyone call for a new election when the total number of ballots in question wouldn’t be enough to change Harris’ victory?

Answer: We don’t know how many ballots are in question. While the number of returned mail-in absentee ballots from Bladen County would not be enough to change Harris’ victory, even if all them were changed to McCready, we don’t know what happened to many other requested absentee ballots, particularly in Robeson County (see next question).

Further, the state board can call for a new election under four criteria, The Charlotte Observer reported. Three of the four reasons include mention of having ballots “sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election,” according to state law.

But one does not. It says that the board may order a new election if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the result of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.” It will be up to the nine-member board to determine if the alleged wrongdoing in the 9th Congressional District reaches that standard.

• Question: Were absentee ballots in Robeson County destroyed instead of turned in if they contained vote for Democratic candidate for Congress?

Answer: We don’t know what happened to unreturned mail-in absentee ballots in Robeson County. But we do know that a lot of mail-in absentee ballots were not returned — and the majority were sent to registered Democrats.

Robeson County Board of Elections chairman Steve Stone told The News & Observer that the county sent out about 2,300 mail-in absentee ballots, which must be requested. According to the state board, 1,197 were not returned. Of that total, 822 were sent to registered Democrats.

Overall in the 9th Congressional District, 1,873 unreturned absentee ballots were sent to Democrats and 519 unreturned absentee ballots were sent to Republicans, according to a News & Observer analysis of the data.

• Questions: How likely is it that the absentee vote scam was carried out in other counties and other congressional districts? Is this going on in Gaston County or any other NC counties?

Answer: Again, we don’t know for certain that this was isolated to Bladen and Robeson counties or the 9th Congressional District. But the state board of elections has certified the election in North Carolina’s other 12 congressional elections. We also know that Bladen County has had a history of allegations about election fraud. This is the fifth investigation, at least, into elections in the county.

• Question: Is there a potential violation of federal law? If so, will matter also be referred to Federal Elections Commission or US Attorney?

Answer: States run elections, even ones for federal offices. But it seems likely that the FEC and/or U.S. Attorney’s office could become involved. Robert Higdon, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, charged 19 foreigners with voting in the 2016 election. Higdon was appointed by President Donald Trump.

Mark Harris’ son, Josh, is an assistant U.S. attorney in Higdon’s office, The Washington Post reported.

• Question: What about Red Dome’s other clients like Mark Meadows? Isn’t it unlikely that this kind of scheme was just limited to 1 or 2 counties?

Answer: Red Dome Group is the Charlotte-area consulting firm that Harris hired and paid nearly $430,000, according to federal campaign reports. Red Dome Group hired Dowless to work for the Harris campaign in Bladen County. The Harris campaign owes Red Dome Group more than $53,000, including $34,310 for Bladen County absentee work, according to campaign documents.

Red Dome Group worked with two other federal campaigns during the 2018 election cycle — Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents far western North Carolina and Melanie Leneghan, an Ohio Republican who lost in the GOP primary.

Meadows paid Red Dome Group $36,115 for online services, advertising and email, according to the FEC. Meadows was re-elected to a fourth term in Congress in November. Leneghan paid the group nearly $52,000 for consulting work, according to the FEC. She alleged ballot-box fraud in her race, according to Cleveland.com.

• Question: Are absentee and/or early ballots even possible in a special election?

Answer: Yes, absentee and early voting would be required in a special election, according to Gerry Cohen, the longtime special counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly. The election would have to allowed 13 days of early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day and would have to allow 45 days for overseas and military absentee ballots, he said.

“This is going to be enormously expensive for counties” if it were to happen, Cohen said.

In a bill remaking the state board, state lawmakers wrote that the just-passed voter ID requirements would not be applicable to a new election. Both bills have passed the General Assembly, but Gov. Roy Cooper has not signed either as of Dec. 17.

Of course, we could expect a lot of legal challenges to all of this.

• Question: Will there be a 2nd vote, basically a re-do?

Answer: If the state board orders a new election, the same candidates would appear on the ballot in the same order, according to state law. The only exceptions would be if a candidate died or moved out of state.

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