The Republican reaction to the massive election fraud scandal in NC-09 that’s now garnering national attention is interesting to watch. The GOP leadership is demanding that Mark Harris, the Republican Congressional candidate who led in the district by 905 votes, be certified so he can take his place in Congress. The operatives on twitter are trying desperately to make the scandal a Democratic one, or at least a bipartisan one.

Republicans who’ve spent a decade decrying rampant voter fraud that they’ve never been able to show, now find themselves demanding that rampant fraud be swept under the rug. To hear them tell it, a rogue operator little known to the GOP ginned up hundreds and maybe thousands of votes. They maintain that nobody has shown that enough votes were suppressed or manufactured to have changed the outcome. The NC GOP agrees an investigation should take place but it shouldn’t interfere with the outcome of the election. That’s ridiculous.

Right now, nobody knows how deep the corruption goes. The primary suspect, McCrae Dowless, appears to have been working in multiple counties and he was both manufacturing and suppressing voters with mail-in absentee ballots. A full accounting needs to be done before anybody is certified.

The investigation also needs to figure out who knew what and when. I have a very hard time believing Mark Harris didn’t know what was going on in Bladen County. He ran three campaigns down there in less than three years and the mail-in ballot numbers were suspect in all three. The first time, the lopsided margin benefited his opponent. The next two times, it benefitted him. And according to witnesses, Harris recommended Dowless’ services to other GOP candidates. Anybody who has done politics in that part of the state knows there’s been a history of allegations of corruption. Congressman Robert Pittenger, the man Harris beat in the primary, was “fully aware” of “unsavory people” in Bladen County.

Conservative twitter warriors are furiously making accusations that Democrats were behind voter fraud, too, as if that will justify the NC09 corruption by somehow exonerating Harris or just leveling the playing field. There’s some truth behind their histrionics. Corruption in Robeson and Bladen County has been happening for decades. From 2012 to 2016, there was a 25+ point swing from Democrats to Republican in races for president and governor and, yet, every other down ballot Democrat  won with healthy margins. That big a swing in a single cycle and that many split tickets should have raised flags.

Two major differences separate the irregularities this year and in the past. First, the fraud this year is tied directly to the top-of-the-ticket candidate, Mark Harris. Second, the fraud may have actually swung a race that had bigger implications than just the governance of Bladen or Robeson Counties.

Like Louisiana under the Long machine, political corruption in Bladen and Robeson Counties is part of the political culture. Right or wrong, most state politicians have stayed out of it. In most cases, neither county has enough votes to swing a major election and the fraud is occurring for financial reasons and between competing local interests that have little to do with ideology of the major political parties. Delving into political corruption in these counties is opening a Pandora’s Box that could upend the political establishments of both places.

There needs to be a full-scale investigation of both counties. Republicans who have spent years screaming about in-person voter fraud and demanding measures that would disproportionately impact people who don’t agree with them would be wise to get in front of this particular episode. Otherwise, they open themselves up to allegations of cover-up and hypocrisy, not a good look heading into 2020, a year when North Carolina elects both a US Senator and governor, not to mention being a key swing state in the presidential election.

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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