Voting irregularities must be cleaned up

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What in the world is going on in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District? The eyes of the nation are now on that region, where credible allegations suggest fraud could have changed the outcome of the Nov. 6 election for that seat. This is a matter that needs to be addressed transparently and thoroughly, for the sake of our state and for the reputation of our election system.

Following the election, which found Republican Mark Harris ahead of Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, the nine members of the state Board of Elections — four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated voter — voted unanimously against certifying the election results because of what it called “numerous irregularities” and “concerted fraudulent activities” involving traditional mail-in absentee ballots cast in Bladen County, which is partly in the 9th, and Robeson County, which is entirely in the 9th.

As of this writing, the state board has collected at least six sworn statements from voters in Bladen County who described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without their being filled out. At least two county residents turned their ballots over.

Others described receiving absentee ballots by mail that they had not requested. Investigators found an exceptionally large number of absentee ballots that had been requested, some 1,600 of which were never returned.

On Friday, the board voted 7-2 to hear evidence by Dec. 21 before deciding whether to certify the result. If board members find enough problems that could have altered the outcome or cast doubts on the election’s fairness, they could order a new election.

Right now this has generated a great deal of anger and confusion, with some Republicans claiming the Democrats on the elections board are trying to manipulate the results and some Democrats claiming Harris’ campaign tried to suppress Democratic votes. Andy Penry, the Democratic chairman of the board, resigned his position last week after Republicans questioned his impartiality, stating that he wanted the investigation to continue “free of attempts at distraction and obstruction so that the truth can be revealed.”

That’s the one honorable act to come out of this mess so far.

Attention has also been turned to the May primary, in which Harris surpassed incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger with 96 percent of the absentee votes from Bladen County — an unusual tally that now seems suspicious.

Republican leaders have for some time insisted on the unsubstantiated myth of rampant voter fraud, but they’ve focused primarily on in-person fraud at the voting booth, showing little interest in the possibility of fraud by absentee ballot. Now, when suspicious activity occurs, they’re urging the board to certify the election and move on. If their concerns about voter fraud are sincere, they should support the elections board’s investigation.

The elections board should receive all the resources it needs to clear up this matter. The charges are serious and should be above the type of political wrangling we’ve become accustomed to seeing from partisan warriors. Aside from voters’ stolen rights, our state’s reputation will suffer until this mess is straightened out conclusively.

— Winston-Salem Journal

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