State officials on Tuesday pushed back against Republican suggestions that they could have stopped the election fraud scandal before it forced a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
Their defense came during a discussion organized by Davidson College about the election fraud case. It featured the chairman, executive director and general counsel of the State Board of Elections.
Indictments that followed the board’s February hearing into the fraud allegations have resulted in the arrests of Bladen County operative McCrae Dowless and four others involved in what election officials call a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced” scheme.
“Is the primary role of the State Board of elections to put people in jail . . . or protect the elections . . . and stop the bad business before it happens?” asked Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party.
“Our job is to protect the elections and that is exactly what we were trying to do,” responded Kim Strach, the state board’s executive director.
In 2016 an investigation by the board into allegations of impropriety found “information strongly suggesting” that Dowless was paying people to request and collect absentee ballots from Bladen County voters. It also found that Dowless had a previous felony conviction for insurance fraud and perjury.
Dowless himself had started the investigation by filing a protest over alleged absentee ballot irregularities by the Bladen County Improvement Association.
That year the state board turned over three cases, two involving Dowless, to state prosecutors and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Nothing happened before the 2018 election.
Strach said the board sent letters last October to Bladen voters who had requested an absentee ballot, warning them to mail or deliver it themselves.
Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, one of 10 Republicans running for the 9th District seat, said he still believes the board inappropriately gave the Bladen Improvement group advance warning of an investigation in 2018.
Board counsel Josh Lawson said after the 2016 findings of absentee irregularities, neither the Bladen group or anybody else should have been surprised that officials would look closely at the area in 2018.
“It was not a secret that we were investigating down there,” Lawson said.