Three-dozen voters from Bladen and Robeson Counties protested in front of the Raleigh U.S. Attorney’s Office on Friday, demanding action in the ongoing election-fraud investigation in the Ninth Congressional District.
Some of the protest’s organizers said they’ve been seeking an investigation into missing absentee ballots not merely since the disputed November election but for two years.
The Ninth District is the last unsettled congressional race in the country. With all the ballots counted, Republican Mark Harris was ahead of Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement —citing its investigation into irregularities and possible absentee-ballot misconduct, centered on political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless—declined to certify the election. Harris had hired Dowless to run his absentee-ballot-collection efforts in Bladen County, though he’d been suspected of stealing absentee ballots two years earlier. State officials had wanted to charge him, but prosecutors declined to indict him.
The SBE was supposed to hold a hearing on January 11 in the investigation, but a state court ordered the board to dissolve before it could take place. (The board, which was restructured by the Republican-controlled General Assembly as part of a power grab, had previously been ruled unconstitutional, but the courts had allowed it to continue operating through the 2018 elections.) In its lame-duck session, the legislature had created a new board of elections, but it won’t convene until the end of the month. Without a board, then, there was no hearing—and no updates.
The voters who gathered in Raleigh Friday joined the NC Black Alliance, Progress North Carolina, Democracy NC, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and the state NAACP to deliver a petition with twenty-two hundred signatures to the U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon’s office. The group, whose members held signs reading “Stop stealing votes,” also sought a meeting with Higdon.
“I live in Bladen County, and I believe our votes were stolen by Mark Harris and the other Republicans, all of those who hired McCrae Dowless to steal votes,” said protester Deborah Bell said. “This is personal to me.”
Alongside her was Dwight Sheppard, who helped organize the protest. “[We want] an investigation, a new election, and just to bring justice to those who have done wrong in this election and previous elections,” Sheppard said.
Bell says McCready should be seated or a new election should be held. “[Harris] is a crook,” she said. “Mark Harris paid McCrae Dowless, as well as other Republicans to fix the vote.”
The protesters marched to Higdon’s office with signatures in hand, but they were “turned away at the door,” says Jen Ferris of Progress NC.
“They are there to serve democracy, and the fact that meeting people from the district, meeting people who are affected by these voting irregularities is not a priority to them or not on their radar is disappointing,” Ferris says.