In the midst of the kerfuffle in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District this week, many of our state’s various politicos were quick to chime in with analysis and opinions on the matter. From the onset, we all knew very little. It is quite odd for the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to refuse certifying an election. Although the race in NC-09 was decided on a razor-thin margin, McCready, the Democrat, conceded soon after election day.
But now, the results of that race are in question. NCSBE announced earlier this week that they were not certifying the results because of “unfortunate activities,” activities which apparently continue to happen election after election in that part of the state. When Pat McCrory lost his tight contest for reelection in 2016, he was quick to call foul on Bladen County and their antics. It seems that those antics were geared toward electing Republicans, as the shenanigans were uncovered during a hearing claiming alleged fraud to elect Roy Cooper. J.W. Williamson has a nice timeline of questionable activities gathered on this blog post.
Professor Michael Bitzer, from Catawba College in Salisbury, has produced phenomenal data outlining what exactly we should be looking at in NC-09. He displays the various counties within the district, along with their respective absentee requests and how many were returned. Without rehashing his findings, the numbers coming out of Bladen were clear outliers as compared to the rest of the district.
Gerry Cohen, a Democratic lawyer and all around expert on North Carolina politics, produced this thread earlier today depicting what he perceived as irregularities from this county as early as the primaries in Spring.
Tweets on the May 8, 2018 CD9 Pittenger-Harris primary absentee voting in Bladen county — where Harris prevailed 433 to 17 (2 votes for third candidate. In the Democratic primary absentees McCready won 26 to 7. /1 #ncpole
— Gerry Cohen (@gercohen) November 30, 2018
Moreover, the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board has taken a couple shots at the results in NC-09, calling for a full investigation of the election. They also, rightly, call for a quick resolution. Regardless of outcome, there needs to be a clear solution to this, and now:
“Malcolm and the board certainly might have legitimate concerns about fraud or other malfeasance in Bladen, and the investigation raises obvious questions about whether the Harris campaign knew anything about tainted absentee ballots. Malcolm, however, should address whether the issue directly changed the outcome in November’s 9th District race. If so, he owes the public more specifics, immediately. If not, this is not the best way to raise his concerns.”
But this raises another question: what do we do if this is an inarguable instance of voter fraud, but not enough to sway the election? That is, minus the fraudulent votes, if Harris still carries the election. It’s hard to say what an objective standard is, but the GOP was quick to offer their thoughts.
Surely, after years of beating the drums over voter fraud and demanding that we present a photo ID when we vote, Republicans are aghast at the specter of fraud coming from within their own ranks. Of course not. Instead of digging into what actually happened in Bladen, many GOP partisans are jumping straight to the “Why is this just a problem now that it was a close election?” line. Voter fraud is a problem whenever and wherever it happens, but just less of a problem if it helps elect your guy, I guess.
Brent Woodcox, special counsel for Republicans, wrote this morning that:
Thread. Bottom line here is there just aren’t enough votes in question to add up to the 905 vote difference in the race. Legal standard is a new election can only be ordered if irregularities were sufficient in number to change the outcome. #NCPOL #NC09 https://t.co/QzT4esvctU
— Brent Woodcox (@BrentWoodcox) November 29, 2018
Following the logic he lays out, would it matter if Harris had won by 10,000 votes, even if 9,999 were fraudulent? Maybe scale matters, but numerous suspect ballots ought to throw into question the entire race, seeing as it is probably impossible to pin down exactly how many were fraudulent.
Longleaf Politics has taken to task the NCSBE over daring to question the validity of this race. Andrew Dunn, the publisher, writes this morning:
Absentee ballot shenanigans have been reported for years. The state elections board has know about this year’s issues since at least August. But the board — led by a blatant Democrat partisan — only sends up a flag at the last second after their guy loses. Hmm… #ncpol
— Longleaf Politics (@longleafpol) November 30, 2018
You’ll recall that the Board voted 9-0 to hold up certification of this race. That’s a group of four Republicans, four Democrats and a nonpartisan fifth, whom Dunn refers to as “executive director of the leftist A.J. Fletcher Foundation.” Also, note the bolded text that follows that line: “This partisan board now holds the power to steal the election for their party.” The only people “stealing” this election are the foot soldiers allegedly paid by one of Harris’ consultants.
This is blatant fear mongering and partisan hackery. This board voted unanimously to hold up certification and, for all we know, could vote unanimously to call for a new election. Would it still be a Democratic board overthrowing the will of the voters if all nine, or some majority beyond five, chose to overrule the results?
He finishes by stating that “North Carolina could take a step toward preventing future conflicts like this by trying again for a bipartisan elections board.” I tend to disagree. In fact, we would take a step toward preventing these conflicts if we took a stand now, today, and scrutinized the results of this election. It is truly astonishing to see the blame for the validity of an election foisted away from the party that conducted the alleged fraud and onto the party that called it out.
For the sake of legitimacy, this whole episode needs to be aired out in hearings. If the Board calls for a new election, there will be an immediate lawsuit, and that’s good. If Mark Harris won this election fair and square, let him prove it.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.