Election fraud has been happening in counties around the state for years but law enforcement generally ignored it, according to an article in the News & Observer. Most of it took place in rural counties and centered around local elections, even if some of it bled over into the state and federal ones. State and local law enforcement officials were more interested in bigger fish like council of state members, US Senators and legislators than sewer and water authorities or even county commission races.

This year, it changed. The fraud had direct impact on a race that couldn’t avoid scrutiny. The scheme reached a number of counties in the 9thCongressional district and involved enough ballots to determine control of the extremely close election. Had Harris won by 10,000 votes instead of less than 1,000, we might not be hearing about the fraud now.

There are a lot of questions to be answered. What did Mark Harris know and when did he know it? Did officials of the elections board or the Republican Party ignore protests from Robert Pittenger’s campaign that fraud was occurring? Why have officials turned a blind eye to fraud for so long?

Let’s hope an investigation gets to the bottom of these questions. However, we’ve got a bigger challenge that transcends the 9thDistrict race but it’s highlighted by the fraud there. How do we restore trust in our democracy?

The fraud perpetrated in Bladen County and other counties around the state looks nothing like the fraud described by Republican politicians and Fox News. There aren’t large numbers of non-citizens going to the polls to vote for Democrats. There aren’t organized groups of people impersonating non-voters showing up to cast illegal ballots at polling places. The fraud that was perpetrated in places like Bladen County would not be prevented by voter ID laws. Still, we’ve got voter ID laws that should give some relief to the people duped by Republican voter fraud fiction.

Now, we need to restore confidence in the system for the rest of us. First, we must find a way to fix our clearly broken mail-in absentee ballot program, a voting method dominated by Republicans for decades in North Carolina until this year. We could limit the number of ballots a person could witness. We could try various methods to ensure that the person being sent the ballot actually requested it. Regardless, it needs to be fixed, but not scrapped as former Governor Pat McCrory suggested.

Next, we need to end the hyper-partisan gerrymandering that’s limited competition in our elections, led to more partisanship and reduced accountability in our legislature and Congress. We should enact a non-partisan or bi-partisan or multi-partisan redistricting commission to give people a sense that our districts are fair, not rigged.

We should work to restore confidence in our boards of elections. The so-called bipartisan election board is not an answer. It’s merely a scheme to weaken oversight and regulation by people who believe any regulation is bad. It mimics the Federal Elections Commission, one of the most toothless, ineffective regulatory agencies in Washington. Instead, we should have a way to ensure confidence in the board members. Maybe members of opposing parties have limited veto power over appointments to prevent people who come to the board with partisan agendas instead of good government ones.

The fraud that’s garnering more negative national attention offers North Carolina an opportunity. We can address a host of problems that have left people with less faith in our democracy. We can end gerrymandering, fix mail-in absentee ballots and strengthen faith in the people who oversee elections. We could become a national model for election integrity. Or not.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >

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