Posted by on December 12, 2018 9:54 am
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Categories: Elections and voter rights

The scandal surrounding apparently stolen mail-in ballots in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District lays bare the failure of both the state and federal governments to ensure that your vote really matters.

For over a century, malefactors, particularly in the former Confederate states, have been doing their damnedest to stop Americans of African ancestry from voting, and, as The Guardian‘s Khushbu Shah explains, the goings-on in the Tarheel State are the latest iteration of structural American racism.

One night last October, Jerry Ward, 49, was gathered with about a dozen other people at a relative’s house in downtown Bladenboro, a small city of just 1,700 souls in rural North Carolina. Then a young, white woman came to the door, asking about getting people inside to vote early in the upcoming and fiercely contested midterm elections.

“It was a whole house full of us and the girl came after dark and she was like saying that we could vote early and we was about to fill in them papers but we didn’t. She said, ‘I’ll fill them out for you’,” said Ward who, like the other voters quoted in this story, is African American.

The comment raised suspicions among those gathered, not least because in North Carolina, like much of the rural south, memories still linger about the fight for voting rights for black residents – and the equally fierce fight to resist them.

The group decided not to accept the woman’s offer. In the end, Ward voted in person. So did everyone else in the house that night.

They were right to be suspicious. After election day, which saw a narrow win for the Republican candidate, the North Carolina state board of elections announced it would not certify the results in the ninth congressional district in which Bladenboro sits. Within days, it emerged “ballot harvesters” had been hired by a veteran political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, to pick up absentee ballots in Bladen county, the local news station WSOC-TV reported. Some of those ballots never turned up.

The scandal gives an additional definition to “election theft”.

Usually fights over voter suppression involve complex arguments over voter ID laws, how to register street addresses or disenfranchising felons. But the apparently brazen “harvesting” of ballots which then disappear without being counted has stunned many in the district and left them shaken.

As investigators search for answers to questions about “ballot harvesting” in the general election, another element of the scandal is also emerging:

Democrats have been quick to argue that their losing candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s Ninth District may have been a victim of election fraud. But there might be a Republican victim as well.

He is outgoing Representative Robert M. Pittenger, whose narrow loss to Mark Harris in the Republican primary in May is just about as studded with red flags suggesting absentee ballot fraud as the general election now under scrutiny.

As with the November general election, most of the concerns about the primary center on Mr. Harris’s extraordinary success with absentee voters in Bladen County, a rural swath of southeastern North Carolina where L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a shadowy contractor with a history of suspect voter turnout efforts, worked for Mr. Harris’s campaign.

In that primary against Representative Pittenger, Mr. Harris won 437 of the 456 ballots cast through the mail in Bladen County; his overall margin of victory was only 828 votes. By contrast, in an earlier run against Mr. Pittinger in the 2016 primary, Mr. Harris won only four of 226 such ballots in the county. Mr. Dowless did not work for Mr. Harris in that 2016 campaign.

This detail should be setting off alarm bells: Former Bladen County sheriff’s deputy Kenneth Simmons, a volunteer for candidate Billy Ward, said that at one point during a meeting for Ward’s activist supporters, L. McCrae Dowless Jr., who has been identified as a “person of interest” in the probe into North Carolina election chicanery,

spoke to them while holding a thick packet of documents that they could not see up close. They said Mr. Dowless boasted to them that he had 800 or 900 signed and completed absentee ballots in his possession, and that he planned on turning them in to the county Board of Elections just before the deadline. (In the end, state officials reported just 811 absentee-by-mail ballots were cast throughout the entire Ninth District in the Republican congressional primary.)

Mr. Simmons said that he was not well-versed enough in state election law to know that possessing another person’s absentee ballots is, in most cases, illegal. But he had other questions.

“What I couldn’t comprehend is, if you get the ballots why don’t you go ahead and turn them in every week?” Mr. Simmons said. “Why hold them?”

“I asked him why he had not turned them in,” Mr. Simmons said in the affidavit. “He stated you don’t do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up.”

Mr. Simmons added: “My concern was that these ballots were not going to be turned in.”

That scene alone should raise questions for anyone with an interest in election integrity. If this is happening in North Carolina, it could be happening elsewhere.

This nation needs more rigorous national standards for elections — including a stipulation that mail-in ballots must be returned by mail only, and that voters be made aware of such a rule.

But that may be the least of our worries.

The Democratic Party needs to get outright militant about election corruption imposed by conservatives, Republicans, and racist Confederate cult adherents, including but certainly not limited to obstacles to registration and voting in person, including onerous so-called “voter ID” laws, obsolete and unsecured computerized voting machines and tabulators, and other techniques meant to suppress of voters. Enough is enough. .