Politics & Government

Wake County district attorney investigating Bladen County ballots amid fraud claims

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman confirmed Monday that her office has had an active criminal investigation into “potential voting irregularities” in Bladen County since early this year.

The investigation began with allegations about 2016 voting but now incorporates the allegations raised in the 2018 primary and general election.

“There has been an open investigation throughout this period,” Freeman, a Democrat who won re-election to a second term this year, said in a phone interview.

In the 9th Congressional District, Republican Mark Harris has defeated Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results, but the state elections board has twice declined to certify the results over “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots,” according to Joshua Malcolm, who has since been named the board’s chairman.

Freeman’s office became involved earlier, in January, after a referral from Jon David, the district attorney for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties. David told The News & Observer in an email that he forwarded the case to Freeman because “aspects of the fraud are alleged to have occurred in Raleigh.”

Freeman said the 2016 allegations regarding fraudulent use of absentee ballots are paper-intensive, which is part of the reason that case hasn’t concluded. Hurricane Florence, which slammed Bladen County in September, also slowed the work, she said.

Freeman said her office is in regular contact with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement as it probes the 2018 allegations. The board has scheduled a hearing on or before Dec. 21, and could forward the case to Freeman’s office for criminal investigation.

Who supports an investigation?

Republicans have criticized the board for not certifying the 9th district election.

At a news conference Monday, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the elections board was right to delay certification of the election and call for a public hearing.

Republicans should not stand in the way of uncovering the truth, he said.

“Now for years, Republicans have pursued voter ID as a solution to a voter fraud problem that doesn’t exist. Their efforts disenfranchise North Carolinians and target communities of color,” Goodwin said. “Yet, the GOP has called for the board of certify an election where serious allegations of election tampering have been made. And the hypocrisy is unmistakable.”

Evidence of possible election fraud was uncovered just as state legislators began working to pass a new voter ID law.

Voters in the November election approved writing a photo ID requirement into the state constitution. Voter ID is a long-held goal for state Republicans. Voter ID opponents and Goodwin said Republicans are willing to ignore potential fraud when it benefits their candidates.

“It is reprehensible that the Republican Party advocates for laws making it harder for eligible voters to cast their ballot while they are trying block a fair investigation into Bladen and Robeson absentee ballots,” Melissa Kromm of NC Voters for Clean Elections said at a news conference.

NC Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said the party supports an investigation, but wants Harris certified.

There aren’t enough questionable ballots to change the outcome of the election, Woodhouse said.

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