True voting fraud is rare in the United States. But, the recent shenanigans in the race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District should give pause to anyone concerned with the integrity of elections.
Preventing absentee ballot fraud should be an action item for next year’s Idaho Legislature.
On election night a month ago, Republican candidate Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready. As of last week, the margin was a slim 905 votes out of more than 283,000 counted.
At issue is absentee ballots cast in Bladen County, North Carolina. It is on the eastern side of the state, between Fayetteville and Wilmington. In 2010, the population was 35,190.
Harris won Bladen County’s absentee ballots by a 22-point margin, 61% to 39%, despite Republicans only making up 19% of the voters in that county. That was a big red flag. Another was that Bladen was the only county in the district where Harris won absentee ballots.
After election day, reports started surfacing of people going door to door to collect absentee ballots. The indication is that ballots were gathered and turned in if they were likely to be for Harris and tossed if they were likely for McCready. Some ballots may have been re-marked to change the voter’s preference.
Leslie McCrae Dowless is the man alleged to be behind this operation. He was hired by a consulting firm affiliated with Harris to get the vote out. In 2016 he admitted before an ethics panel to doing then what is being claimed occurred in 2018. Of note, in this year’s primary —- where Harris beat a GOP incumbent — Harris got 98% of the vote in Bladen County.
Collecting ballots directly from voters is illegal in North Carolina.
Pressure is building to re-run the North Carolina election entirely. There is no indication Harris knew of the apparent fraud.
What if the same had occurred in Idaho in 2018, perhaps with enough ballots at issue to affect a close race like the one for the state Senate in District 15 that was decided by just 11 votes?
It is unclear that what happened in North Carolina would currently be illegal in Idaho.
Here is the key part of the Idaho statute on returning absentee ballots once cast:
34-1005. RETURN OF ABSENTEE BALLOT. The return envelope shall be mailed or delivered to the officer who issued the same; provided, that an absentee ballot must be received by the issuing officer by 8:00 p.m. on the day of election before such ballot may be counted.
There is no clear Idaho prohibition to prevent others going door-to-door and collecting cast absentee ballots as there is in North Carolina.
Idaho does have a general election statute that could apply to what apparently happened in Bladen County.
Idaho Code 18-2305 states: “Every person who, by . . . any corrupt means . . . to awe, restrain, hinder or disturb any elector in the free exercise of the right of suffrage . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor.” That could be stretched by an Idaho prosecutor to apply to the North Carolina scenario. But, it is still a stretch.
A better course would be for the Idaho to slam the door shut on absentee fraud. It should be made illegal in Idaho to gather cast absentee ballots directly from voters. And, it should be a crime to destroy marked absentee ballots or to re-mark to votes them.
If not, some Idaho county in the future could be in the spotlight like Bladen County, North Carolina, is right now.