NC’s 9th Dist. case reveals the source of the real corruption – our political system.

Mark Harris calls for new election in 9th district

Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.
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Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.

Tainted elections are as American as the Constitution. For much of history women and most African Americans were intentionally denied the franchise. Then politicians strove to buy the ballots of those allowed in the pool. From the whiskey used as bribes in the early days of our republic to the intricate system of patronage and intimidation wielded by big city political machines in the 19th century, to the “walk-around money” handed out in the 20th century, ours has been a democracy by hook or by crook.

How could it be otherwise? Politics attracts the most ambitious, sharp-elbowed among us and thrusts them into a Darwinian pit. After the final count, they survive or die, win all or nothing.

Talk about a recipe for corruption. Like many athletes, even the best politicians may be tempted to cheat because they assume their opponent already is.

Our leaders get away with these criminal shenanigans because they are basically in charge of policing themselves. And just as good cops often join the blue wall of silence protecting bad officers, honest politicians have displayed little interest in exposing this endemic corruption.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should buy the lie that voter fraud is almost nonexistent in America.

That’s why it’s heartening that Republican Mark Harris’ victory has been overturned in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District because his campaign orchestrated a fraudulent scheme in which third parties collected and returned mail-in ballots.

Harris says he won’t run again. Instead, he should be indicted along with the man who allegedly orchestrated his ballot-harvesting scheme, McCrae Dowless.

Mark Harris said he didn’t believe his son’s warnings that a Bladen County political operative was likely committing felony absentee ballot collection before the 2018 election, and didn’t in fact see them as warnings.

Dowless’ arrest Wednesday is not surprising. In the rare cases where individuals are charged with voter fraud, it’s almost always the lackey that gets nabbed while the politicians and party bosses who hired them remain free to cheat another day. Bringing charges against Harris would send a powerful message.

The telling fact in the Harris case is not the ballot-harvesting that compromised the general election. It’s that Harris won 96 percent of Bladen County’s mail-in vote in his primary win over incumbent Robert Pittenger and no one said a peep. It also appears that Dowless has run the same operation for Democrats in the past and was introduced to Harris by Marion Warren, the director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts.

All of which suggests that Harris was not an outlier but a representative of the political system.

Harris is also the canary in the coal mine of American democracy. Almost everyone has known and almost no one has cared that mail-in ballots are the Achilles heel of our electoral system, uniquely vulnerable to corruption. And yet, broad movements are underway to make this the national standard. Three states —Oregon, Washington and Colorado — vote exclusively by mail.

In 2016 California legalized the ballot-harvesting that got Harris in trouble. In that state’s Orange County alone as many as 250,000 ballots were reportedly dropped off on election day, many in batches of 100 to 200 by single individuals.

Mark Harris' son, John Harris testifies that he had concerns about Dowless McCrae and voiced those concerns to his father prior to Dowless joining the campaign during the NC 9 hearing at the State Board of Elections, Feb. 20, 2019.

Republicans claim this helps explain their shellacking in the mid-terms. Democrats correctly note that there is no evidence of tampering, but history, and common sense, should make us skeptical.

In fact, only one state, Texas, has made even a half-hearted attempt to police voter fraud. Since January 2018, 33 people have already been convicted of voter fraud in the Lone Star State – many for the ballot-harvesting — and at least eight more have pending cases.

The Harris case underscores another cynical deception perpetrated by our leaders. Republican claims of rampant in-person fraud and Democrat conspiracy theories involving Russian hackers are diversions that aim to blind us to the real corruption.

Harris has opened our eyes. Now it’s time to start looking and holding our leaders accountable.

McCrae Dowless is at the center of controversy in North Carolina's 9th district, but most of the time he's stayed behind the scenes.

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.