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GOP should back probe, possible new vote in 9th District

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Last month, the voters of North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment that requires specific forms of voter identification be shown before citizens of voting age are allowed to cast a ballot in this state.

Legislators are currently crafting the language that will structure the specific legal requirements of the new law, which is expected to be effective as early as next year.

The years-long agenda for, and subsequent inclusion of, voter ID on the November ballot has been driven by the state’s Republican Party leadership. The state GOP has long advocated for voter ID and other steps, claiming their necessity to prevent voter fraud — even as bipartisan election studies have shown only rare instances where actual illegal votes were cast and no cases, in fact, in which illegal votes would have affected election outcomes in North Carolina.

Nevertheless, the concerns created about voter fraud have been a successful political tool for Republicans, who have used it effectively to gain support, particularly among many conservative rural voters who have become a solid base for GOP candidates across the state. In fact, it was the power of rural voters at the ballot box that made the difference in the GOP’s strategy to get the voter ID amendment approved in November.

But now, after a majority of voters dutifully followed the GOP mantra by approving the voter ID amendment, substantial and mounting evidence is pointing toward some of the party’s own in an alleged scheme to “harvest” and vote absentee ballots.

State election officials are investigating whether paid campaign staff working for Republican candidate Mark Harris illegally collected absentee ballots from voters during the congressional election in the 9th House District. The final election tally in the race had Harris 905 votes ahead of Democrat Dan McCready for the seat in Congress. However, in light of the allegations and subsequent investigation, the N.C. Board of Elections has refused to certify those results and McCready has recalled his concession to Harris in the race.

Investigators want to know if any or all of the collected absentee ballots were tossed out or altered in Bladen County — the focus of the probe — and if the alleged ballot-harvesting may have affected other counties in the district. Election records show an inordinate number of absentee ballots were requested by voters across the 9th District (topping 3,400) that were not returned.

So far, these are allegations, but it’s significant that recent reporting shows some ranking GOP members had been informed months earlier about possible election shenanigans during the election year.

Republican Robert Pettinger, the district’s incumbent U.S. House member whom Harris defeated in the May primary, raised his concerns after his defeat of possible improper election tactics by party campaign operatives who worked for Harris. Those warnings were reported to and discussed by Republican leaders, including Dallas Woodhouse, the state GOP executive director, who acknowledged to The Washington Post knowing of Pettinger’s claims last spring.

Certainly, it’s both unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the state’s Republican Party would condone election fraud, just as it would be incorrect to assume that Democrats are responsible for election irregularities. However, it does fall on the doorstep of the state GOP to respond appropriately.

Republicans have been the party most publicly raising the specter of election fraud affecting the outcome of elections — as we have seen in this area and across the state. It’s now incumbent on the party’s leaders to take a deep look at their own house when it comes to voter fraud and any questionable tactics that may have influenced the election outcome.

GOP leaders should support a diligent, fact-finding probe by the SBI, concluding with the transparency of full disclose to the public — steps we believe are justified in a case of this significance. And, unless investigators can confirm no evidence of fraud, party leaders should also support a new election to clear the air for the public. An election tainted by even a hint of fraud must not go unchallenged.

State GOP leaders must recognize the peril and consequences that would befall such an ill-advised course of allowing the election to stand if the public cannot be assured of its integrity.

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