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Why the case for election fraud in North Carolina is strong

Updated 10:01 PM ET, Wed December 5, 2018

(CNN) - The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics last week voted against certifying Republican Mark Harris' 905 vote win over Democrat Dan McCready in the state's 9th Congressional District.

In the days since, allegations of election fraud involving absentee mail-in ballots have been made public.

The case for election fraud appears to be strong. That's because it's doesn't rely on just one or two pieces of evidence. Rather, it's a slew of evidence. This means that even if one part of the case were to fall apart, there would be still be reason to believe that the election wasn't on the level.

1. Signed voter affidavits

North Carolina law requires that absentee ballots can only be returned by a voter or a his or her legal guardian or near-relative (e.g. spouse, father-in-law or stepchild). Democratic officials were able to track down voters, however, in Bladen County (part of North Carolina's 9th District) who claimed that non-family members came to their house and promised to deliver their ballots to the state for counting. This practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in the state of North Carolina, which on its own would be enough to question the results of the election.

At least one voter further claimed that she handed over her ballot even though it wasn't completely filled out and not sealed. It is plausible that these ballots were tampered with once voters handed them over. In a tight election, even a few changed votes could make a big difference.

2. Ballot harvester admission

One of the ways we know if ballot harvesting is taking place is that absentee ballots have two signed witnesses to ensure the integrity of the process. It would be quite unlikely that one person would be a witness many times because that would likely require them going house to house to be a witness. That might be plausible if they were also helping to deliver the ballots, but remember only near-relatives or legal guardians can deliver ballots by North Carolina law. Yet, there are seven people who were witnesses more than 10 times.

One of these included Ginger Eason, who was interviewed by local television station WSOC. She admitted on camera that she was paid to collect ballots from people who weren't her near-relative or whom she doesn't have legal guardianship over (which is illegal under state law). Further, Eason admitted that she didn't actually send the ballots she collected to the state. Rather, she handed them to a paid contractor to Harris' campaign, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who paid her for her efforts. What Dowless did with those ballots is unclear.

3. A history of shady activity

Many of the allegations in North Carolina keep circling back to Dowless. He once served a prison sentence for felony fraud. Back in 2016, Dowless was accused of questionable activity involving absentee ballots. During that year's primary, Dowless' candidate (Todd Johnson) racked up a suspiciously high 98% of the absentee vote by mail in Bladen County. Johnson came in third overall districtwide.

In this year's primary, Dowless' candidate (Harris) won 96% of the absentee vote in Bladen. In no other county in the district did Harris approach this margin among absentee voters. Additionally in no other county did the raw number of votes cast via absentee ballot come anywhere close to the number in Bladen. (Voters often don't return requested absentee ballots)

Dowless has denied any wrongdoing in comments to the Charlotte Observer. CNN could not reach him for comment on either Sunday or Monday.

4. Weird absentee vote pattern

FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich looked at how absentee votes in each of 9th District's counties compared to overall vote in the district. As in the primary, Bladen cast a higher percentage of its overall vote via absentee ballot than the rest of the county in the 2018 general election. Not only that, but Harris won a greater margin of the vote in the Bladen County absentees (24 points) than he did in any other county.

Of course, voters in Bladen may have simply liked Harris more than McCready. Yet, in every other county in the district, absentee voters were more likely to vote for McCready than voters casting their ballot via a different method. The average overall was McCready doing 24 points better. In Bladen, absentee voters were 8 points more likely to vote for Harris than other methods.

5. Absentee partisanship makes no sense

Another way we can check if the absentee votes in Bladen County make any sense is to look at the party registration of those who voted. Professor Michael Bitzer of Catawba College did this.

In Bladen, 42% were registered Democrats, 39% were registered unaffiliated and 19% were registered Republicans. It would seem unlikely that such a Democratic leaning electorate would favor Harris by a 24-point margin. Still, we would expect some difference between the party registration edge Democrats had and the vote margins.

It seems unlikely that the disparity would be as great as this, however. In no other county in the district was the difference between the margin in party registration among absentee voters and the margin in the House race greater than 24 points. In Bladen County, it was 47 points. A 47-point difference is possible. You just would think that at least one of the other counties in the district would have had something close to this difference. None did.

So what will happen if government officials agree that election fraud has taken place? The state board of election could order a new election. The US House of Representatives could refuse to seat Harris.

Either way, it is quite possible that a new election will need to take place in North Carolina's 9th District.


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