Since election day last month, there has been a slow ripple of revelations about 9th Congressional District get-out- the-vote conduct in Bladen County, the small, eastern-most county in the 9th district. The North Carolina congressional election is the only one in the nation still pending because of allegations of election fraud.
Bladen County businessman McCrae Dowless is the central figure in an alleged conspiracy being investigated by the State Board of Elections. Some officials are calling for a new 9th district election because of multiple examples of potentially criminal behavior by Dowless.
At issue is an apparent 905-vote margin of nearly 283,000 votes cast between the Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress. The vote as it stands favors Republican Mark Harris over Democrat Dan McCready.
Dowless has no political party allegiance. He has supported Democrats in the past. Dowless is accused of having workers collect dozens of mail-in absentee ballots from residents before they were filled in, which violates the law.
The attention in the 9th district is not always on Republican partisan conduct. A political action committee with an unofficial affiliation with the North Carolina Democratic Party had two paid staffers who served as witnesses for more than 100 absentee ballots. Also, a Democratic member of the Bladen County Board of Elections was once a business partner of Dowless. The local elections board is being examined by the state for potential conflicts of interest.
Dr. Michael Bitzer is a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He is considered one of the nation’s leading scholars on the American presidency. Bitzer found that many more North Carolinians returned absentee ballots than four years ago. And there was a distinct partisan difference in the voting than in years past as well.
Bitzer noted that, historically, a low percentage of absentee ballots in the 9th district is returned compared to other districts in the state. This time, Bladen County had twice the number of absentee ballots on average than most other counties. Bitzer’s analysis suggested additional aberrations.
In seven of the eight counties in the 9th District, for example, McCready got a lopsided majority of absentee ballots. But not in Bladen County. There, Harris won 61 percent of the vote, even though registered Republicans initially received few of the county’s accepted absentee ballots. Most of the unreturned ballots belonged to African-American and Native American voters.
The United States is divided into 435 congressional districts, each with a population of about 710,000 individuals. States with larger populations have greater representation. Each district elects a member to the U.S. House of Representatives for a two-year term.
The 8th and 9th Congressional districts adjoin each other and stretch along the South Carolina border to Mecklenburg County and a small portion of Gaston County. Cumberland County is split in half and is shared by both districts. Fort Bragg is part of the 8th district.
Photo: McCrae Dowless