Absentee ballot fraud allegations roil North Carolina U.S. House race

As the North Carolina Board of Elections meets on Friday on matters surrounding the recent close election in the 9th Congressional District, where the GOP leads by just 905 votes, more evidence has started to surface of possible absentee voter fraud in one county, which may have generated an abnormally large number of votes for the Republican candidate for Congress.

The focus is Bladen County, located in a triangle in between Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Lumberton, in the southern part of the Tar Heel State - which has been the subject of election questions before in 2016.

A review of absentee ballots in the nine counties which make up the 9th District done by Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in North Carolina, shows a striking anomaly when it comes to the tally of those ballots from Bladen County.

In Bladen County, 61 percent of the accepted absentee by mail ballots voted for Republican Mark Harris - the only county to do so," wrote Bitzer, who found that did not track with the party registration of those voting.

"In Bladen County, only 19 percent of the county's accepted absentee ballots came from registered Republicans," Bitzer added, as he produced this eye-popping graphic on his website:

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Questions were not only surfacing about the November election, where Harris won a narrow victory over Democratic candidate Dan McCready, but also in the GOP primary, where others also found an odd number - as Harris won 95 percent of the absentee-by-mail votes cast in Bladen County against incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC).

Harris is from Charlotte - on the far western end of this district - not from Bladen County; he won the GOP race over Pittenger by just 828 votes.

Asked this week about the possibility that fraud led to his ouster from Congress, Pittinger was blunt in a local television interview.

Earlier this week, the North Carolina Board of Elections refused to certify the results from the Harris-McCready election, but also refused to divulge any details on what was being investigated; the panel will meet on Friday morning.

News organizations reported that North Carolina elections officials seized absentee ballot envelopes and request forms - but not the actual ballots - from Bladen County, soon after the elections.

But reporters have slowly pulled out information which seems to indicate people were collecting absentee ballots from voters in Bladen County - and possibly filling out the vote for the Congressional race, or even discarding the ballots.

So far, no allegations of wrongdoing have been publicly made against the Harris campaign, which has hired lawyers to press the case for a final certification of the election outcome.

The turn of events is getting noticed on Capitol Hill.

"The allegations of voter tampering and fraud in Bladen County are extremely serious and ought to be fully investigated," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number two Democrat in the U.S. House. "Every vote must be counted."

One note to remember is that even if North Carolina elections officials certify Harris as the winner, the House of Representatives is the final arbiter of election outcomes.

After a very close election in Indiana in 1984, Democrats in the House seated Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-IN) over Republican Rick McIntyre, who had led after the initial count by 34 votes.

After the House review, McCloskey was declared the winner by four votes, leading Republicans to walk out in protest, citing a similar demonstration by Democrats over a disputed election in 1890.