Politics

NC Prosecutor Has Been Probing Election Fraud in 9th District Going Back to 2016

State elections board has twice declined to certify Republican Mark Harris’ slim victory amid fraud claims

A North Carolina prosecutor has been investigating election irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District long before Mark Harris’ contested election in November’s election. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer file photo via AP)

The district attorney in Wake County, North Carolina, has been investigating claims of election tampering in North Carolina’s 9th District for months, long before the results of the district’s congressional race were thrown into question over claims of fraud.

Lorrin Freeman opened a probe earlier this year to examine irregularities in the 2016 election in the 9th-District section of Bladen County, and has since added similar allegations from the 2018 primary and general elections to her investigation.

“There has been an open investigation throughout this period,” Freeman, a Democrat who won a second term to her post based in Raleigh earlier this year, told the News and Obvserver.

Republicans in North Carolina are pressuring the state elections board there to certify the 9th District results, even as the board continues to investigate irregularities in absentee mail-in voting.

Republican Mark Harris, a Baptist minister, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial vote count.

The board — comprised of four Republicans, four Democrats, and an unaffiliated ninth member — has twice declined to certify the election as it continues to collect evidence and sworn statements alleging illegal “harvesting” of absentee ballots for the benefit of Harris.

Former Democratic chairman of the board Andy Penry resigned last week after tweets surfaced of him criticizing President Donald Trump. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday appointed Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm, also a Democrat, to lead the board, the News and Observer reported.

Harris and the state GOP have criticized the board for not publicly providing evidence that enough votes have been called into question to swing the outcome of the election.

The board’s 7-2 vote on Friday included a provision to hold a public hearing by Dec. 21 to shed more light on its investigation.

“Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” Harris said in a statement Friday. “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.”

McCready so far has downplayed the effect of potential election fraud on the outcome of the race, though he said in a statement Friday that he has “respect” for the board’s decision to delay certifying the 9th District results.

Instead, the Democrat has placed an emphasis on wanting to ensure that “any bad actors are held accountable.”

Officials have continued to collect sworn statements from voters in Bladen and Robeson Counties about people who went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is illegal for a third party to turn in absentee ballots. Other people who signed sworn affidavits have said they received absentee ballots in the mail even though they didn’t request them.

An unidentified woman has been implicated in the affidavits for illegally rounding up absentee ballots from voters at their doorsteps. In two of the sworn statements, Bladen County official Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who has been wrapped up in previous allegations of voter fraud, has also been accused of wrongdoing.

One of the signed affidavits alleges that Dowless worked for Harris and would receive a $40,000 bonus if the Republican minister won.

Officials have also begun examining Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in Bladen County, where voters cast an unusually high number of mail-in absentee ballots.

Harris won 96 percent of all mail-in absentee ballots in the county in his primary race against GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger back in May, far outpacing his overall margin of victory.

And in the general election, Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County even though just 19 percent of the voters who requested and received mail-in ballots were registered Republicans.

Bladen County elections director Cynthia Shaw has taken leave a month before her planned retirement, WRAL reported, as officials continue to investigate election tampering in her county.

Shaw is using built-up vacation and sick leave days before her retirement, another official told WRAL.

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