Repub­li­cans want Democrats to be in­ves­ti­gated, too

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY WILL DO­RAN AND RASHAAN AYESH

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As ev­i­dence mounts that a North Carolina Repub­li­can can­di­date for Congress may have ben­e­fited from an or­ga­nized elec­tion fraud scheme in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, other GOP politi­cians are now say­ing they be­lieve Democrats have done the same thing and should also be in­ves­ti­gated.

They also called Thurs­day for the state board to stop han­dling the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­ten­tial fraud, and for cre­ation of a task force that would take over.

“There must be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the years of al­leged ab­sen­tee bal­lot fraud in Bladen County that is prompt, thor­ough, trans­par­ent and non­par­ti­san,” Repub­li­can state Sen. Dan Bishop of Char­lotte said at a news con­fer­ence at the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing. “Trou­bling al­le­ga­tions have been lev­eled lit­er­ally for years in Bladen.”

Bladen County, a tiny ru­ral part of the state’s south­east­ern cor­ner, and a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive named McCrae Dow­less have emerged at the cen­ter of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial elec­tion fraud in­volv­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots. Dow­less worked as a con­trac­tor for Repub­li­can can­di­date Mark Har­ris’ cam­paign.

Har­ris lost the ab­sen­tee vote to Demo­crat Dan McCready in ev­ery county in the district ex­cept for Bladen, where Har­ris won more than 60 per­cent of the ab­sen­tee bal­lots, The (Raleigh) News & Ob­server has re­ported.

The N.C. Board of Elec­tions and Ethics En­force­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of fraud in Bladen County as well as in neigh­bor­ing Robe­son County. But Bishop said the board – which has four Demo­cratic mem­bers, four Repub­li­can mem­bers and an un­af­fil­i­ated mem­ber – can’t nec­es­sar­ily be trusted to rise above pol­i­tics.

“There is rea­son to doubt the ca­pac­ity of the state board of elec­tions,” Bishop said.

Repub­li­cans said one of the things that made them con­cerned about the board’s abil­ity to han­dle the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is that the board hadn’t taken ac­tion even though Joshua Mal­colm, who is now the board’s chair­man, said he had been aware of sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions “for years.”

Mal­colm, a Demo­crat, was the vice chair­man when he made that re­mark last month. Cooper later named him chair­man after the pre­vi­ous chair­man, Demo­crat Andy Penry, stepped down in the face of com­plaints over posts he made on so­cial me­dia crit­i­cal of Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Bishop and other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors called on Demo­cratic

Gov. Roy Cooper to work with the leg­is­la­ture to cre­ate a new task force to look into the Har­ris-McCready race, as well as al­le­ga­tions of fraud they be­lieve might have helped Cooper de­feat McCrory in 2016.

Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter didn’t di­rectly say Thurs­day whether Cooper would sup­port that plan.

“Gov­er­nor Cooper be­lieves North Carolini­ans should have con­fi­dence in the in­tegrity of elec­tions and al­le­ga­tions of fraud and tam­per­ing must be in­ves­ti­gated,” Porter said in an email. “There are mul­ti­ple on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and leg­is­la­tors should al­low in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pros­e­cu­tors to fol­low the facts and take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion.”

But im­me­di­ately after the GOP news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, the state Demo­cratic Party held its own news con­fer­ence in which Demo­cratic Party Chair­man Wayne Good­win harshly crit­i­cized the Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors for what he de­scribed as an at­tempt to in­ter­fere in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Amidst over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence of elec­tion tam­per­ing in the 9th Con­gres­sional District, Repub­li­cans are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to dis­tract, and ob­struct jus­tice, and avoid ac­count­abil­ity,” he said.

Good­win said there’s also leg­is­la­tion mak­ing its way through the Gen­eral As­sem­bly that would take away the power of the state elec­tions board, as well as the Wake County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice, to han­dle in­ves­ti­ga­tions into elec­tion fraud.

“Now, as the ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing be­comes over­whelm­ing and mounts day by day, Repub­li­cans no longer want this board to in­ves­ti­gate,” Good­win said. “Very cu­ri­ous.”

On Thurs­day, Repub­li­cans said that al­though Cooper lost the statewide ab­sen­tee bal­lot vote in 2016, he won it in Bladen County. Cooper lost the over­all vote in Bladen County. They said if the Har­ris race is go­ing to be in­ves­ti­gated, then that should, too.

“Any fraud is un­ac­cept­able in this state,” Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County said. Tucker then called the cur­rent elec­tions board in­ept and lack­ing in trans­parency.

How­ever, Tucker was one of the Repub­li­cans who voted to cre­ate the cur­rent ver­sion of the board he’s now crit­i­ciz­ing. After Cooper de­feated McCrory in 2016, Repub­li­cans have tried on sev­eral oc­ca­sions – all of which have now been over­turned as un­con­sti­tu­tional – to change the makeup of the elec­tions board in or­der to lessen the gov­er­nor’s in­flu­ence over it.

Good­win also noted that while Repub­li­cans are bring­ing up al­le­ga­tions of Bladen County fraud in 2016 that might have helped Democrats, those al­le­ga­tions were al­ready in­ves­ti­gated and dis­missed – by a state elec­tions board that at the time had a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity.

In a twist, it was Dow­less who brought that 2016 com­plaint, aided by lawyers from McCrory’s cam­paign com­mit­tee. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled board of elec­tions voted to dis­miss his com­plaint then, but did send in­for­ma­tion on to the U.S. At­tor­ney for Eastern North Carolina to look into. And on Mon­day, The News & Ob­server re­ported that al­le­ga­tions about fraud in 2016 in Bladen County are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Wake County District At­tor­ney Lor­rin Free­man.

While the board in 2016 that dis­missed the GOP com­plaint had a 3-2 Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity, the cur­rent board does not have a ma­jor­ity from ei­ther party.

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