Of­fi­cials knew about 2016 elec­tion al­le­ga­tions

The News & Observer - - Triangle & N.C. - — N&O STAFFERS DAN KANE, RASHAAN AYESH, JANE EL­IZ­A­BETH, AND MCCLATCHY DC STAFFER BRIAN MUR­PHY

State find­ings of North Carolina elec­tion ma­nip­u­la­tion in 2016 were el­e­vated as far as a top Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cial in Washington, D.C., but so far no charges have been filed by pros­e­cu­tors at any level.

The head of the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Pub­lic In­tegrity Sec­tion met with staff from the North Carolina state board of elections about al­legedly im­proper elec­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in Bladen County that oc­curred dur­ing the 2016 elections, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by The News & Ob­server.

An­naLou Tirol, the act­ing chief of the Pub­lic In­tegrity Sec­tion, was sched­uled to meet with Josh Law­son, the state board’s gen­eral coun­sel, and Kim Strach, the board’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, on Jan. 31, 2018. The meet­ing in Raleigh was set up by Brian S. Mey­ers, an at­tor­ney in the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice for the East­ern Dis­trict of North Carolina.

The meet­ing took place and there has been no email cor­re­spon­dence be­tween the board and the Pub­lic In­tegrity Sec­tion since a fol­low-up email a day after the meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to Pa­trick Gannon, spokesman for the state board.

The Pub­lic In­tegrity Sec­tion, based in Washington, D.C., su­per­vises the na­tion­wide in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of elec­tion crimes, ac­cord­ing to its web­site. Sec­tion at­tor­neys pros­e­cute se­lected cases against fed­eral, state, and lo­cal of­fi­cials, and are avail­able as a source of ad­vice and ex­per­tise to other pros­e­cu­tors and in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to its site.

The 2016 al­le­ga­tions are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Wake County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lor­rin Free­man. In 2017, the state board re­ferred its in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice for the East­ern Dis­trict of North Carolina.

“Our find­ings to date sug­gest that in­di­vid­u­als and po­ten­tially groups of in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in ef­forts to ma­nip­u­late elec­tion re­sults through the ab­sen­tee bal­lot process,” Strach wrote to John Stu­art Bruce, the then-U.S. At­tor­ney in the East­ern Dis­trict, in a pre­vi­ously re­ported let­ter. “The ev­i­dence we have ob- tained sug­gest that those ef­forts may have taken place in the past and if not ad­dressed will likely con­tinue for fu­ture elections.”

To date, no one has brought any charges re­lated to the al­le­ga­tions. Nor was any­one charged after a 2010 in­ves­ti­ga­tion into elec­tion prac­tices in Bladen County. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion, too, re­sulted in a re­fer­ral to pros­e­cu­tors.

On Feb. 1, 2018, state board of­fi­cials emailed James Mann, an­other De­part­ment of Jus­tice of­fi­cial, an eight-page sum­mary of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into 2016 elec­tion ac­tions by the Pa­tri­ots For Progress PAC and the Bladen County Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion PAC as well as ac­tions by McCrae Dow­less, a Bladen County po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive.

In the Jan­uary 2018 sum­mary, also pre­vi­ously re­ported, state in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ported they found “in­for­ma­tion strongly sug­gest­ing” that Dow­less “was pay­ing cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als to so­licit ab­sen­tee re­quest forms and to col­lect ab­sen­tee bal­lots from Bladen County vot­ers. In do­ing so, work­ers em­ployed by Dow­less were re­quired to hand­carry the bal­lots to Dow­less in order to be paid.” It is il­le­gal, out­side of very spe­cific cir­cum­stances, to col­lect some­one else’s ab­sen­tee bal­lot, The News & Ob­server has re­ported.

Dow­less is a per­son of in­ter­est in the board’s cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble elec­tion fraud in the North Carolina 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict elec­tion in Novem­ber. Dow­less was hired by Repub­li­can Mark Har­ris for mail-in ab­sen­tee bal­lot work in Bladen County. Har­ris leads Demo­crat Dan McCready by 905 votes, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial re­sults.

The state board has re­fused to cer­tify re­sults of the elec­tion in the 9th dis­trict. The board was dis­banded un­der a court rul­ing, but its staff is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing and plans to hold an ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing after a new board is se­lected and sworn in as di­rected by a new state law. The seat re­mains va­cant in the new Congress.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ab­sen­tee vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict con­tin­ues today with as much in­ten­sity and fo­cus as there was at the be­gin­ning,” Gannon told The News & Ob­server.

Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats have lamented the fact that noth­ing was done de­spite years of al­le­ga­tions and in­ves­ti­ga­tions, all lead­ing to the cur­rent mess. Two dozen pro­test­ers gath­ered at the state board of­fices Fri­day and marched to the of­fices of U.S. At­tor­ney Robert J. Hig­don Jr. to de­liver a pe­ti­tion with more than 2,000 signa- tures calling for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2018 elections.

“Did the U.S. at­tor­ney in­ves­ti­gate the very solid ev­i­dence of vote steal­ing in the 2016 elec­tion? No,” said Jen Fer­ris, the di­rec­tor of re­pro­duc­tive rights at Progress North Carolina. “If they had, would we be in this sit­u­a­tion now? No.”

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