Ab­sen­tee bal­lots at root of tan­gled House race

‘Har­vest­ing’ il­le­gal in North Carolina

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

A North Carolina con­gres­sional dis­trict re­mains the last race still up for grabs this year, with the elec­tion re­sult tan­gled in fraud al­le­ga­tions and the out­come po­ten­tially rest­ing in the hands of the in­com­ing House Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity.

The state board of elec­tions has de­clined to cer­tify the tally in the state’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict af­ter the ini­tial count showed Repub­li­can Mark Harris de­feat­ing Demo­crat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of more than 280,000 cast.

What’s next is un­clear, but a fa­mil­iar cul­prit is at the cen­ter of the dis­pute: ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

The board col­lected at least six sworn state­ments from vot­ers who said peo­ple came to their homes and urged them to hand over their ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

Democrats are cry­ing foul over what they call il­le­gal bal­lot-har­vest­ing, though they balked at sim­i­lar com­plaints from Repub­li­cans in Cal­i­for­nia, where a num­ber of races flipped af­ter eleventh-hour floods of ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

There was also an un­usu­ally large per­cent­age of ab­sen­tee bal­lots from mi­nor­ity vot­ers — a re­li­able Demo­cratic bloc — that were not turned in at the polls in North Carolina.

More than 40 per­cent of bal­lots re­quested by black vot­ers and more than 60 per­cent of bal­lots re­quests by Amer­i­can In­dian vot­ers were not re­turned. By com­par­i­son, just 17 per­cent of bal­lots sent to white vot­ers did not make it back to elec­tion of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to The News & Observer in Raleigh.

Sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions are un­der­way. A dis­trict at­tor­ney probe in Bladen City ini­tially cen­tered on the 2016 cy­cle but was ex­panded to in­clude the 2018 elec­tion.

“Re­ports in­di­cate a di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween the Harris cam­paign and those com­mit­ting elec­tion fraud and sug­gest a cal­cu­lated ef­fort to il­le­gally un­der­mine our democ­racy,” said Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokesman En­rique Gu­tier­rez. “If the North Carolina Repub­li­can Party be­lieves in the in­tegrity of our elec­tions, they won’t stand in the way of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, where third-party col­lec­tion of ab­sen­tee bal­lots is le­gal, the mas­sive can­vass­ing op­er­a­tion is typ­i­cally spear­headed by la­bor unions.

Repub­li­cans were stunned when races they thought they had won sud­denly turned up­side down.

“Cal­i­for­nia just de­fies logic to me,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said at a re­cent event hosted by The Wash­ing­ton Post. “We were only down 26 seats the night of the elec­tion, and three weeks later, we lost ba­si­cally ev­ery Cal­i­for­nia con­tested race.”

Repub­li­cans are on the op­po­site side of the is­sue in North Carolina, though na­tional Repub­li­can lead­ers are loath to de­fend the Harris cam­paign.

“It is laugh­able that with a straight face Democrats are ac­tu­ally call­ing one race that they lose voter fraud but the other one in Cal­i­for­nia just plain bal­lot har­vest­ing,” said Shawn Steel, the Na­tional Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee­man from Cal­i­for­nia.

He said the types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der­way in North Carolina should be opened in Cal­i­for­nia, where the mil­lions of ab­sen­tee bal­lots flipped scores of Repub­li­can seats to Demo­crat this year.

“There’s a fine line to how much you help a voter vote,” said Mr. Steel. “There’s a huge op­por­tu­nity for tremen­dous mis­chief.”

While mil­lions voted with ab­sen­tee bal­lots in Cal­i­for­nia, out of 2.3 mil­lion bal­lots cast in North Carolina, only about 100,000 were mail-in bal­lots.

There are sev­eral sce­nar­ios for ul­ti­mately pick­ing the next U.S. House rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the 9th Dis­trict:

The state elec­tion board could cer­tify the re­sults.

The board could call for a spe­cial elec­tion, re­play­ing the last con­test with Mr. Harris, Mr. McCready and Lib­er­tar­ian Jeff Scott back on the bal­lot.

The U.S. House, which will be un­der Demo­cratic control as of Jan. 3, could de­cide whom to seat.

The House could call for a spe­cial elec­tion, start­ing the process from scratch with new pri­maries and po­ten­tially new can­di­dates.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Mary­land Demo­crat who will be House ma­jor­ity leader next year, said Tues­day that Mr. Harris likely will not be seated un­til the mess is cleared up.

“If there is what ap­pears to be a very sub­stan­tial ques­tion on the in­tegrity of the elec­tion, clearly we would op­pose Mr. Harris’ be­ing seated un­til that is re­solved,” he said.

Mr. Hoyer said he planned to dis­cuss it with Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat ex­pected to head the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee, which has the power to in­ves­ti­gate the elec­tion and call for a new one.

The moves by the state’s elec­tion board came un­der fire from Mr. Harris and the North Carolina Repub­li­can Party.

Mr. Harris said he wel­comed an in­ves­ti­ga­tion “as long as it is fair and fo­cuses on all po­lit­i­cal par­ties.”

“But to date, there is ab­so­lutely no pub­lic ev­i­dence that there are enough bal­lots in ques­tion to af­fect the out­come of this race. Ac­cord­ingly, the Board should act im­me­di­ately to cer­tify the race while con­tin­u­ing to con­duct their in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Any­thing else is a dis­ser­vice to the peo­ple of the Ninth Dis­trict,” he said in a state­ment.

Democrats coun­tered that the elec­tion out­come did not have to be in doubt for voter fraud to in­val­i­date the re­sults.

Adding to the mess, the board’s Demo­cratic chair­man, Andy Penry, re­signed last week af­ter his tweets crit­i­ciz­ing Pres­i­dent Trump came to light.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, el­e­vated Vice Chair­man Joshua Mal­colm, also a Demo­crat, to lead the board.

Gerry F. Co­hen, for­mer spe­cial coun­sel to the North Carolina Gen­eral Assem­bly who drafted state elec­tion laws, said the state has a his­tory of ab­sen­tee voter fraud dat­ing back to sher­iff races in the 1940s.

“But this takes the cake. This is at a level that is un­be­liev­able,” he said.

Like most other states, North Carolina does not al­low third-party col­lec­tion of ab­sen­tee bal­lots. Be­cause of its murky elec­tion past, its laws are strict on the mat­ter. Col­lege stu­dents are even pro­hib­ited from hav­ing a room­mate drop their ab­sen­tee bal­lots into the mail.

“That’s how strict our law is, of course that’s ab­surd,” said Mr. Co­hen. “But tak­ing un­marked bal­lots and fill­ing them out. That is dif­fer­ent than bal­lot har­vest­ing — it’s bal­lot theft.”

David Sherfinski con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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