North Carolina is embroiled in a massive voter fraud scandal that could determine whether a Democrat or Republican represents the state’s Ninth Congressional District following last month’s midterm election.
On Saturday, the Democratic chairman of the state election board resigned to ensure the investigations into the allegations could carry on without any partisan distractions.
In a statement to the board obtained by the Washington Post, chairman Andy Penry wrote that he was stepping down to ensure the investigation could continue “free of attempts at distraction and obstruction so that the truth can be revealed.”
North Carolina Republican officials have criticized Penry for posting tweets critical of President Donald Trump. They point to this as evidence that the investigation into alleged voter fraud is biased and without merit.
The congressional race pitted Republican Mark Harris against Democrat Dan McCready in one of the tightest races in the country. As of Saturday, the margin between the two stood at 905 votes, in favor of Harris. The race had originally been called for Harris by the Associated Press, but it has since announced that it would be revoking its projection.
The state board of elections has refused to certify the results. Penry’s announcement to step down comes after the board voted 7 to 2 on Friday to continue its investigation amid widening allegations of efforts to fill in or discard the absentee ballots of Democratic voters — leaving open the possibility of calling a new election.
In recent days reports have come out that the Harris campaign sent people door to door in rural counties to effectively steal absentee ballots from elderly black voters and fill them out in favor of Harris.
#NC09 GOP candidate @MarkHarrisNC9’s campaign appears to have sent people door to door in rural Robeson & Bladen Counties to steal absentee ballots from elderly black voters and complete them for Harris. There were 1300+ such ballots in those counties in a race Harris won by 905. pic.twitter.com/ufJ5vP3TZ2
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) December 1, 2018
Some individuals have submitted statements under oath detailing these efforts. One voter submitted a sworn affidavit saying an unidentified woman collected an incomplete absentee ballot and said she would finish filling it out. Filling out or turning in someone else’s absentee ballot is a federal crime.
This was a particular issue in Bladen and Robeson counties. In Bladen, for instance, 61 percent of absentee ballots voted for Harris, yet Republicans represent just 19 percent of voters who requested absentee ballots in the area.
There have also been allegations that large numbers of absentee ballots may have been collected by Republican operatives and simply disposed of. Meanwhile, there were reports even before Election Day that voters had received absentee ballots they neither requested nor needed.
One of the names at the center of the allegations is Leslie McCrae Lowless, who was hired as a contractor for the Harris campaign. McCrae Lowless is named in a series of affidavits alleging that he tampered with absentee ballots. According to criminal records, McCrae Dowless was convicted of felony fraud and perjury in the 1980s and 1990s; he also had two misdemeanor convictions for writing bad checks.
Penry’s efforts to remove partisan politics from the investigation comes after Harris in a statement on Friday accused the election board of lacking transparency, calling for the election results to be certified immediately.
“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.
“But to date,” he continued, “there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the Ninth District.”
North Carolina has a history of voter suppression. The state is notorious for its gerrymandering, which was recently ruled unconstitutional.
And in 2013, North Carolina passed one of the worst voter suppression laws in the country. But despite the Supreme Court striking the measure down last year — finding it targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision” — the state adopted a new voter ID bill in June that would effectively impose the same restrictions.
“The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy,” Penry wrote in his statement upon stepping down. “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”