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.
As Vox's Dylan Scott observes, "Elections officials and Democrats have been careful not to allege any specific wrongdoing so far." That's because there are now at least three separate investigations ongoing: one by the state Board of Elections, one by the Wake County district attorney, and one by the FBI and local U.S. attorney. The elections board is due to hold an evidentiary hearing by Dec. 21, but Bruno is almost certainly right when he says that these investigations don't look like they'll conclude "any time soon."
So what happens next? Assuming the board once again refuses to certify the results, which currently have Harris leading by 905 votes, it could order a new election, but that would simply trigger a rematch between Harris and McCready. The other alternative would be for the U.S. House to not seat either Harris or McCready and declare a vacancy, which it's empowered to do under the Constitution. That would force a special election, which would include fresh primaries for both parties.
And that could very well happen. On Tuesday, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, told reporters, "If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved." Hoyer added that he planned to discuss the matter with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who in January will become chair of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over such disputes.
So far, meanwhile, congressional Republicans have remained quiet, though their counterparts in North Carolina have been hollering for the elections board to certify the results, fraud allegations be damned. If either the board or the House prompts a new election, we can expect Republicans to go absolutely hysterical—and we certainly know what Trump will tweet. But if, as appears likely, investigators continue to uncover more unlawful behavior, a do-over will be the only appropriate remedy.