BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – The North Carolina State Board of Elections is examining potential “irregularities” with absentee by mail ballot envelopes in Bladen County which delayed the board’s decision to finalize the results of a close U.S. House race in the 9th Congressional District.
The state board met on Tuesday and voted unanimously to certify the final tallies in scores of elections earlier this month but didn’t sign off on the 9th District. Bladen County is in the 9th District.
Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of 283,000 cast in the district’s eight counties. Harris won Bladen County by 1,557 votes.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, took a closer look at the irregularities in a post on his Old North State Politics blog.
He noted Bladen County saw 22 percent of its requested absentee ballots come from the “by mail” method, the highest of the eight counties in the 9th Congressional District. Bitzer also found 61 percent of the accepted absentee by mail ballots went Republican.
Bladen was the only county with more Republicans voting in this manner. Therefore, Bitzer concludes Harris would have also received “almost all the registered unaffiliated voters and/or some Democratic registered voters to make it to 62 percent of the vote.”
He posted a graph showing the accepted absentee by mail numbers from the eight counties.
An attorney for the North Carolina Democratic Party sent a letter Thursday requesting a public hearing regarding allegations of voter irregularities. The letter from the Democratic Party included five affidavits from voters and election workers in the county. Some said they were approached by a woman who asked the voters to hand over their signed absentee ballots for her to finish filling out and send them to be tabulated.
Another affidavit said non-election officials were allowed to be in the vicinity of an voting machine at an early voting precinct as votes were tabulated for the day.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement meets Friday, but this item was not on the agenda as of Thursday night.
The board met privately for nearly two hours earlier this week before voting in public that the results would not be finalized.
Board Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm, who lives in the 9th District, made the motion to delay race certification until at least Friday.
“I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” Malcolm said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m not going to turn a blind eye to what took place. To the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, that has been repeatedly referred to the United States attorney and district attorneys to take action and clean it up. In my opinion those things have not taken place.”
In November 2016, McRae Dowless filed a protest alleging a “massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.” Dowless successfully ran for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor in Bladen County.
The State Board of Elections eventually dismissed Dowless’ protest on Dec. 4, 2016, “citing a lack of substantial evidence of a violation of election law or other irregularity or misconduct sufficient to cast doubt on the results of the election.”
The board did vote unanimously to hand their findings over to the U.S. Attorney in Raleigh to determine if any criminal activity occurred.
Bobby Ludlum, chairman of the Bladen County Board of Elections, confirmed Wednesday that the state board’s chief investigator, Joan Fleming, seized the envelopes from the county board’s Elizabethtown offices the day after the Nov. 6 elections.
Ludlum was unsure how many envelopes were taken and what the state board is specifically investigating.
“I have no idea what they were looking for, all I have heard are rumors,” Ludlum explained. “They keep that pretty close to their chest, what they’re investigating, and they don’t share it with anyone.”
Copyright 2018 WECT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.