At this point, unless your name is Mark Harris, you probably doubt the integrity of the congressional election in North Carolina’s Ninth District. In what was drawn to be a reliably safe Republican district — which Republicans have held since 1963 — Baptist minister Mark Harris carried the election over Democrat Dan McCready by a narrow 905 votes. Or did he?
Details from this election, and the alleged fraud which occurred, have dripped out from various, stellar reporters over the past two weeks. What began as an odd story that the bipartisan State Board of Elections refused, unanimously, to certify the results of the race has spiraled into a massive news story. Its reach is beyond North Carolina; just two days ago, my largely apolitical uncle from Binghamton, New York texted me asking about the race. Most people don’t even know the name of their incumbent Congressman, yet this sordid tale has reached news outlets from coast to coast in a matter of days.
As it has unfolded, and as a continuously more damning pattern arises, the validity of the election diminishes. In the beginning, Republicans were quick to minimize how big of a deal it was. On Twitter, bastion of reasonable dialogue and measured responses, defenders of Harris quickly played the “both sides” card, recalling reports of similar antics in that district from 2016, when Roy Cooper narrowly overtook Pat McCrory in their contentious gubernatorial contest. But game out that logic: blatant fraud in front of us that benefits your party is not any more legitimate than fraud which benefits the opposition. For the sake of honest representation, both in Congress and in our state government, we should stamp out fraudulent schemes wherever they appear. Even if it hurts your party.
Indeed, as the case against the apparent architect, McCrae Dowless, grows, some of North Carolina’s top Republicans have changed their tune. Dallas Woodhouse, the Executive Director of the NCGOP, went as far as to fundraise on this debacle in the immediate days after the certification was held up, claiming that Democrats were trying to steal this election. Chip in to help us fight back! Now, he is physically sick. On CNN the other day, the mounting evidence of fraud in the county compelled him to vomit. As of today, the official position of the state party is: “If they can state there was a substantial likelihood that the race could have been altered, then we would not oppose a new election.” This about-face is uncommon, especially in our polarized political environment in North Carolina, but good on Woodhouse for staking out a reasonable position.
It certainly appears, as the days of this investigation turn into weeks, that the NCSBE will feel obliged to call for a new election, and they should. In what was, again, a slim margin of 905 votes, potentially thousands of absentee ballots are unaccounted for. In a state where about 16% of absentee ballots are unreturned, the two counties at the center of the scheme, Robeson and Bladen, had a 62% and 40% non-return rate, respectively. Those numbers are aberrant and suspect.
On Thursday, Democrat Dan McCready withdrew his concession. “I didn’t serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back home and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy,” he said. Damn right. It’s time for a new election.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.