CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – An investigation into potential massive voter fraud in North Carolina has thrown the Election Day results of one of the nation’s last unresolved midterm congressional races into question.
North Carolina’s Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement — comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and one Independent — voted unanimously last week not to certify a victor in the race to represent the state’s 9th congressional district due to “numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” involving mail-in ballots.
The race between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris had been acrimonious from the start, and when the dust settled on election night Harris, a former Baptist preacher, appeared to have won by just 905 votes.
In response to the alleged irregulatries, the elections board has subpoenaed documents from the Harris campaign, a campaign attorney confirmed Tuesday.
Investigators seem to be concentrating on activities linked to a longtime political operative from Bladen County, where allegations about mail-in absentee ballots also surfaced two years ago during a tight election for governor.
J. Michael Bitzer, a professor and elections expert at Catawba University in Salisbury, N.C. told Courthouse News that when he learned of the unanimous decision by the elections board not to certify Harris’s apparent win, he knew something in the state’s election process had gone awry.
“I first looked at how each county voted by mail and found that seven out of eight counties in the 9th District, in terms of mail ballots, were for the Democrat,” he said, “One went for Republican Mark Harris and that was Bladen County.”
Only 19 percent of voters who mailed ballots in Bladen County were registered republicans, yet Harris won about 62 percent of the absentee vote, he said.
“Almost every Republican voter would have had to select Harris, which is not unusual, but every independent voter and a high number of cross-over Democrats would have voted for Harris as well for this to add up,” he said.
The high amount of mail-in ballot requests was unusual in this county as well, he said, because this type of voting typically accounts for just 4 percent of total votes.
Bitzer published his findings on a blog, resulting in widespread media attention to these irregularities.
The elections board will hold a public hearing on the matter, Dec. 21.
According to media reports, a number of voters in North Carolina’s Bladen and Robeson counties, has said an unknown woman went door-to-door in their neighborhoods, collecting and offering ballot request forms.
Collecting finished ballots from registered voters is illegal, the elections board said, and it is possible that some could be tampered with or destroyed.
Ginger Eason told local news outlet WSOC-TV on Tuesday that she was paid by someone who worked for the Harris campaign, Leslie McCrae Dowless, to collect completed ballots and hand them directly to him.
Later on Tuesday, the elections board itself released several documents that showed Dowless, currently the Bladen County soil and water conservation district supervisor, was the top collector of absentee ballots in Bladen County.
On Wednesday, The Charlotte Observer, the newspaper whose readership area encompasses the 9th congressional district, called for the elections board to toss the results.
“To be candid, I think we are still in the early stages of the investigation, and we do not know how widespread this really is,” Bitzer said.
A representative of the elections board declined to comment on the ongoing 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 last week. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”