New reporting points to illegal absentee ballot-collection effort in North Carolina House race

The details emerging about the election fraud alleged to have taken place in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional Districts just keep looking worse and worse. There are many pieces to this scandal, but at its core, it appears to involve, as Judd Legum writes, “a coordinated effort to take possession of absentee ballots” in Robeson and Bladen Counties, which would be illegal under North Carolina law.

How have analysts reached this conclusion? Absentee ballots in North Carolina must either be notarized or signed by two witnesses. Diligent reporting shows that a large number of absentee ballots were signed by a very small number of witnesses: One batch of 162 analyzed by Legum showed that just eight different people signed 130 of them. As Joe Bruno of WSOC observes, witnesses would normally be “a family member, neighbor, or coworker,” making this low ratio of witnesses-to-voters a serious indicia of wrongdoing.

On top of that, we have affidavits from voters who say that strangers came to their homes to collect their ballots, and we even have reporting from Bruno, who caught up with one of these repeat witnesses, Ginger Eason. Eason says she was paid $75 to $100 a week by Leslie McCrae Dowless, a consultant for Republican Mark Harris, to pick up absentee ballots. (Dowless, incidentally, was sentenced to two years in prison for felony insurance fraud in 1992.)

Eason also says she doesn’t know what happened to those ballots, but she definitely didn’t mail them to the local elections board. Rather, she gave them to Dowless, who’s refused to comment on what he did with them. That means we can only speculate, though there is one important piece of hard data that can guide us.

According to the Charlotte Observer, 40 percent of absentee ballots in Bladen County and 64 percent of those in Robeson County were never returned to election offices. District-wide, however, only 24 percent of ballots were not returned.

What’s more, in Robeson County, 75 percent of ballots requested by African Americans and 69 percent of those requested by Native Americans went unreturned, versus 40 and 60 percent, respectively, across the district. Furthermore, those district-wide numbers would likely be far lower when excluding the two suspect counties, since they contain a disproportionate share of the populations of both groups.

Dowless, then, may have intercepted votes for Democrat Dan McCready, particularly those of black voters, and simply refused to send them in. The possibility that ballots were altered also can’t be ruled out, as some voters who signed affidavits said they left their return envelopes unsealed when they handed their ballots to collectors. But again, except for postal workers and close relatives, it is illegal for third parties to collect absentee ballots in North Carolina, so even in the absence of any evidence that Dowless altered or discarded ballots, the operation he apparently ran would still run afoul of the law.

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