Early Thursday evening, Liz McDowell appeared before the N.C. Board of Elections in Raleigh to argue on behalf of Mecklenburg County’s early voting plan. By then, the state board had considered more than two dozen such plans, but they hadn’t heard anything Thursday like what was to come.
McDowell, a Republican who is a member of Mecklenburg’s Board of Elections, said that early voting needed to be cut back for the sake of election “integrity.” Fraud was happening, she said, and she proceeded to describe all the ways, including elderly people and the “mentally infirmed” being taken advantage of at voting precincts.
Before she could finish, a Democrat on the board, Joshua Malcolm, couldn’t help himself.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
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The room laughed. McDowell didn’t.
She was serious.
We know this also because we heard precisely the same claims this week from Mary Potter Summa, the Mecklenburg Board of Elections chair. In a letter to the editor she emailed Wednesday, Summa recounted how “campaign and party officials” have coerced voters at Mecklenburg precincts into joining them behind the voting screen. Then, those voters would cast ballots the officials wanted.
That would be big news. We asked Summa what evidence she had.
“I do have documentation from poll observers,” she said.
Did they file complaints?
“Interesting idea,” she said.
In other words, she had hearsay. Her evidence was what some people think they saw, or assumed they saw, or wanted to believe happened behind a voting screen.
With only that in hand, the elections board chair of Mecklenburg County was willing to publicly accuse “campaign and party officials” of breaking the law.
Was she serious? Incredibly, yes.
Or maybe not so incredibly. As anyone who can spell Google will tell you, there’s long been plenty of people in this country willing to spin a good conspiracy. Those folks regularly land in our inboxes here. They have for years.
But until recently, they haven’t often been public officials. Like, say, an elections board chair telling her county that there’s rampant cheating going on.
Perhaps Summa and McDowell figure that Republicans have been brandishing the possibility of voting fraud for years without political cost. Or maybe it’s that conspiracy has gone mainstream. After all, we have a presidential candidate who winks and nods about his opponent’s health, or about another opponent’s dad meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald, or about the 2016 election being rigged.
On Thursday, at least, the state elections board wasn’t playing along. No Republicans, who make up a majority of the board, leaped to defend McDowell. Members instead adopted a compromise plan submitted by Carol Hill Williams, the lone Democrat on the Mecklenburg board.
That won’t open up all the early voting sites voters enjoyed in 2012, but it’s a rejection of the basic premise Republicans were offering: That a good way to insure against voting fraud is to have fewer people vote.
Are they serious?
Peter: @saintorange; pstonge