N.C. race shines light on bal­lot se­cu­rity

Boston Herald - - OPINION - By RICH LOWRY Rich Lowry is ed­i­tor of Na­tional Re­view.

Maybe bal­lot se­cu­rity isn’t such a bad thing af­ter all.

Democrats, who were in­sist­ing that voter fraud didn’t ex­ist, now be­lieve that it was used to steal a North Carolina con­gres­sional seat from them — and they may well be right.

Repub­li­can Mark Harris has a 905-vote lead over Demo­crat Dan McCready in the state’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, a slen­der vic­tory that the State Board of Elec­tions has re­fused to cer­tify given cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of cheat­ing.

A con­sult­ing firm work­ing for Harris con­tracted with an oper­a­tive named McCrae Dow­less based on his get-out-the-vote work, mostly in­volv­ing his strange prow­ess with ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

Dow­less has a shady back­ground that in­cludes crim­i­nal con­vic­tions and a prior in­ves­ti­ga­tion of his elec­tion prac­tices. His meth­ods were seamy, at best.

Work­ing from a store­front, he em­ployed a crew to go door to door urg­ing peo­ple to re­quest ab­sen­tee bal­lots. When they did, his team re­turned to col­lect the bal­lots, pur­port­edly to de­liver them to elec­tion of­fi­cials but ap­par­ently to hand them over to Dow­less first.

This is it­self against the law in North Carolina, and rightly so. It de­stroys any chain of cus­tody and cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity for more abuse and cor­rup­tion. There is ev­i­dence that Dow­less may have availed him­self of it.

Bladen County, the largely ru­ral area where Dow­less fo­cused his work, out­paced other coun­ties in ab­sen­tee-bal­lot re­quests — with 7.5 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers mak­ing a re­quest, higher than the 2 per­cent or so in most of the rest of the coun­ties.

Weirdly, only 19 per­cent of ab­sen­tee bal­lots in Bladen were sub­mit­ted by Repub­li­cans, yet Harris man­aged to win 61 per­cent of the ab­sen­tee vote there. He didn’t win ab­sen­tees in any other county.

The im­pli­ca­tion is that Dow­less may have pock­eted ab­sen­tee bal­lots not to his lik­ing, par­tic­u­larly from black Democrats. If so, this would truly be a damnable — and lit­eral — in­stance of “voter sup­pres­sion.”

The Harris mar­gin over McCready in Bladen County (162 votes) is con­sid­er­ably less than his over­all mar­gin. Yet there was al­most cer­tainly il­le­gal­ity in a very close elec­tion, and if Dow­less was dis­card­ing or de­stroy­ing bal­lots, the num­ber of af­fected votes may go higher.

North Carolina law sets a stan­dard for a revote that doesn’t re­quire a finding that cheat­ing changed the out­come. The elec­tion board can or­der a new elec­tion if im­pro­pri­eties oc­curred that “taint the re­sult” and “cast doubt on its fair­ness.” Pend­ing the con­clu­sion of the board’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it’s hard to see how that stan­dard won’t be met.

Repub­li­cans won’t like it, but they should prob­a­bly want to start over, for the sake of the in­tegrity of their own nom­i­nat­ing process, if noth­ing else. In the GOP pri­mary for the seat, Harris won an equally nar­row vic­tory over the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent and an even more smash­ing Dow­less-en­gi­neered vic­tory in Bladen ab­sen­tee bal­lots, 437 to 17.

The larger les­son here is that peo­ple will ex­ploit vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in the elec­tion sys­tem, and it should be as se­cure as pos­si­ble. Ab­sen­tee vot­ing is a par­tic­u­lar soft spot. It oc­curs out­side the watch of elec­tion of­fi­cials, and it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine what hap­pens to the bal­lot in be­tween the time it leaves and re­turns.

The North Carolina race demon­strates how even rel­a­tively small-scale cheat­ing — no one will ever mis­take McCrae Dow­less for a ma­jor player — can un­der­mine faith in our sys­tem. And how, if any­one doubted it, voter fraud is real.

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