The irony is pretty rich. For years, and with ever-increasing intensity, Republicans have claimed with virtually no evidence that our democracy is menaced by election fraud. It has been their all-purpose excuse for voter suppression tactics, their rationalization for election defeats, and a central element of a Big Conspiracy Theory alleging that Democrats want open borders so they can drown good white taxpaying citizens in a sea of illegal voting by immigrants and other minorities seeking to give themselves welfare benefits.
So now, from North Carolina, there’s finally a clearly documented case of election fraud that actually appears to have changed an election result. The cruel irony for Republicans is that operatives from their own party — particularly “consultant” Leslie McCrae Dowless — allegedly did the deed.
As Philip Bump notes, this is very much a blue-moon development:
The last time there was a federal election that needed to be rerun was more than 40 years ago, when a close race combined with a faulty voting machine in Louisiana to prompt the calling of a new election. Politico’s Steven Shepard has a good history of past do-overs, including that Louisiana race, a history that makes clear that this is probably the first federal election in which the results were tainted by fraudulent activity.
To be clear, the illegal activity in North Carolina’s Ninth District didn’t resemble the “voter fraud” scenarios Republicans have insisted on imagining in recent years:
[This] wasn’t an election tainted by people showing up to cast illegal ballots, the fraud allegation that has been leveled scores of times by President Trump alone. Instead, it focused on allegedly corrupt actions by a man working for a consulting firm hired by one of the candidates.
So tighter voter-ID laws or voter-roll purges or more closely scrutinized voter-registration drives, the most frequent GOP prescriptions for “election security,” wouldn’t have mattered at all. You could make an attenuated case that opportunities for early voting or voting-by-mail — in this case voting by absentee ballot — that Democrats have recent championed are the problem. But what happened in North Carolina is the functional equivalent of old-fashioned, 19th-century ballot-box stuffing. Unused absentee ballots were fraudulently filled out with signatures forged, and actually filled-out absentee ballots cast for the “wrong” candidate were discarded. As the Brennan Center wryly observes, this activity was much closer to voter suppression than to the voter fraud alleged to justify voter suppression. And as Bump notes, the silence from Republicans about it all has been deafening:
[T]here has been almost no outcry from Republican elected officials. Trump hasn’t mentioned the situation in North Carolina. A review of congressional tweets shows no Republican officials who have linked the events in the 9th District to their party’s campaign against voter fraud — and plenty of Democrats who have noted that silence.
Actually, some conservatives have attempted to change the subject to their traditional whining about Democrats via whataboutism aimed at California, as reflected in this Breitbart take:
According to the Washington Post, Dowless and his staff gathered absentee ballots from voters and offered to mail them in on the voters’ behalf. Only near relatives are allowed to do that under North Carolina law.
But in California, third parties may submit an unlimited number of mail-in ballots, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.
The practice of “ballot harvesting” is now thought to have had a major impact on the 2018 midterm elections in California, where several incumbent Republicans in competitive districts had healthy leads on Election Night, only to discover — weeks later, in some cases — they had lost, thanks to mail-in ballots.
This wasn’t “thought to have had a major impact” by anyone, and I do mean anyone, other than Republicans trying to explain away their disastrous performance in California, which predictably got worse when a long-established Democratic tilt in late mail ballots predictably manifested itself. Innuendo aside, there hasn’t been a scintilla of evidence that anyone in California committed felonies by falsifying or discarding mail ballots, which is what the North Carolina case is all about.
So Republicans really do need to own what happened in North Carolina’s Ninth District, and at a minimum stop pretending “election fraud” is a Democratic phenomenon — or that keeping people from voting is an appropriate remedy for crooks faking or stealing their ballots.