By Cassandra James
Even without a presidential or governor’s race, the 2018 midterms had a formidable impact on North Carolina’s politics. While the 12th Congressional District, which includes Salisbury, continues to be represented by Democrat Alma Adams, not everyone has been able to send a representative to Washington. In the neighboring 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville, the seat remains vacant as the state pursues a major election fraud investigation.
The election in question originally put Republican candidate Mark Harris 905 votes ahead of his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready. The race was predicted to be a toss-up, so nothing seems amiss right off the bat – until you look at the absentee ballots (used to vote by mail) in Bladen County. In every other county in the district, absentee ballots were cast for McCready by margins of sixteen points or higher. In Bladen county, Mark Harris received more absentee votes by a margin of twenty-three points. Dr. Michael Bitzer’s analysis revealed that, in order for Harris to have won by that margin, he would have had to win every unaffiliated voter that voted absentee, and a good number of Democrats. This combined with the fact that a significant portion of absentee ballots requested were not returned prompted a unanimous vote from the NC Board of Elections refusing to certify the results and grant Harris the seat.
So, what happened? Who is to blame here? Many fingers have been pointed toward McCrae Dowless – a convicted felon and well-known figure in Bladen County politics. Dowless was hired by the Harris campaign through Red Dome, a political consulting firm out of Charlotte. The investigation remains incomplete, though some are positing that Dowless collected and withheld the absentee ballots that would have cost Harris the election.
Dr. Bitzer has been on the case from the beginning – his analysis of the election results has been widely cited by local news sources as well as major networks like CNN and Vox. According to his blog, Old North State Politics, the election fraud allegations that have “rocked this state is unlike anything I have seen or experienced in sixteen years of studying North Carolina politics.”
A hearing before the NC Board of Elections is scheduled for Feb. 18. At the end of the hearing, the five-person board will make a decision to either certify the election results and give the seat to Harris, or order a new election for the district.