A three-judge federal panel unanimously ruled Friday that Ohio’s gerrymandered congressional district map is unconstitutional, and ordered the creation of a new map in time for the 2020 election. This is the latest in a series of decisions across the country striking down partisan maps, including in neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania. Plus, Supreme Court rulings are pending for cases out of North Carolina and Maryland.
State legislature gets Aug. 1 deadline to enact new maps for 2020. A three-judge panel on Thursday ruled that Michigan must use new congressional and legislative maps in 2020, potentially setting up a more favorable battlefield for House Democrats, who flipped two seats in the state last fall. The federal court invalidated portions of the existing maps, drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2011, pointing to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters. The League of Women Voters and some Democrats had challenged the state’s 162 legislative and congressional districts, but the final suit only targeted 34 of those districts. Michigan has 14 congressional districts. The plaintiffs challenged the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th congressional districts. After the 2018 midterms, Democrats now hold five of those nine seats, and the full delegation is evenly split between the two parties, 7-7. The court found that all nine of the challenged congressional districts are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders “because they dilute the views of Democratic voters.” The court reached the same conclusion for seven state Senate districts and 11 state House districts.
After high turnout in last year's midterm elections propelled Democrats to a new House majority and big gains in the states, several Republican-controlled state legislatures are attempting to change voting-related rules in ways that might reduce future voter turnout.
By Emery Dalesio and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The political operative at the center of an election fraud scandal that has engulfed a North Carolina congressional race was arrested Wednesday on charges of illegal ballot handling and conspiracy. Four people working for him were also charged. Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., 63, was accused of directing workers to collect and mail in other people’s absentee ballots during the 2018 Republican congressional primary and the 2016 general election. It is against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, a measure aimed at guarding against manipulation. Prosecutors are still investigating evidence of ballot tampering by Dowless and others working on behalf of GOP candidate Mark Harris during last fall’s congressional election in the mostly rural 9th District, which includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward across several counties. The indictment represents the first charges in a scandal that has cast doubt on election integrity and will leave a congressional seat unfilled for months. “These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” state elections director Kim Westbrook Strach said. Dowless was arrested less than a week after the state elections board decided that his work for Harris, starting with the primary, tainted the Republican’s apparent victory in November. The board ordered a new election but hasn’t set a date. Harris is not running in the do-over election; his Democratic opponent from November, Dan McCready, is. Harris has not been charged and has denied knowledge of any illegal practices by those involved in his campaign. But he, too, could come under scrutiny. During last week’s board hearing, he admitted writing personal checks to Dowless in 2017, a potential violation if the payments weren’t reported.
By John Wagner
Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative at the center of a Republican congressional campaign in North Carolina tainted by evidence of ballot fraud, was indicted by a grand jury on seven counts, a prosecutor announced Wednesday. Dowless, who worked for Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the state’s 9th Congressional District, was arrested and charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and two counts of possession of absentee ballot, the Wake County district attorney’s office said. North Carolina election officials last week ordered a new contest in the district, ending a dramatic, months-long investigation focused on irregularities with mail-in ballots. The board voted unanimously to throw out the November results between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, had led by 905 votes in unofficial returns. He announced Tuesday that he would not run in the new election.
By Alan Blinder
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina election authorities on Thursday ordered a new contest for Congress in the state’s Ninth District after the Republican candidate, confronted by days of evidence that his campaign underwrote an illegal get-out-the-vote effort, abandoned his defense and called for a new vote. The unanimous ruling by the North Carolina State Board of Elections was a startling — and, for Republicans, embarrassing — turn in a case of political chicanery that convulsed North Carolina. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, said from the witness stand on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Harris’s announcement represented an abrupt collapse of the Republican effort to stave off a new vote in the Ninth, which includes part of Charlotte and runs through much of southeastern North Carolina. But the evangelical pastor’s political surrender came only after a damaging 24 hours for Mr. Harris and his allies; just before Mr. Harris called for a new election, he acknowledged that some of his earlier testimony had been “incorrect.” Although Mr. Harris maintained on Thursday that he did not know, in real-time, about any illegal behavior by L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a campaign contractor, or his workers, witnesses this week depicted an operation that was rife with misconduct, including the completion and collection of absentee ballots. Both actions are illegal in North Carolina, and witnesses said that they had occurred repeatedly. Mr. Dowless, who refused to testify before the board, has not been charged with any crimes in connection with the 2018 election, nor have any of his workers, who were often friends or relatives with little ideological interest in politics. Prosecutors are examining the operation, though, and are considering whether to bring any criminal cases.
By Dylan Scott
A state hearing is entering its fourth day as state officials consider whether to call a new election. At a North Carolina hearing, investigators have laid out in detail an “unlawful,” “coordinated,” and well-funded plot to tamper with absentee ballots in a US House election that remains uncalled more than three months after Election Day — finally bringing clarity to one of the most bizarre election scandals in recent memory. State investigators established on Monday their theory of the case — that a Republican-hired local operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who say they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony over several hours. Monday’s session ended with Dowless, under the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify before the election board. They met again the next two days to continue the hearing and the proceedings extended into Thursday, with Republican candidate Mark Harris expected to take the stand. But as Thursday’s hearing began, the board revealed that Harris’s campaign had produced new evidence the night before Harris was to testify: previously undisclosed contacts between the candidate and Dowless. Harris’s attorneys said they had misunderstood the extent of the investigation’s request. Democratic attorney Marc Elias referred to the documents as “explosively important.” He asked the court to consider the way in which the evidence was released as “adverse interference” by the Harris team. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, a top political consultant for Harris’s campaign and the candidate’s own son had given remarkable testimony about the decision to hire Dowless. The consultant, Andy Yates, and John Harris both insisted Harris did not know what Dowless was doing and proved too trusting about the operative’s claims. Yet John Harris did say he warned his father that Dowless’s prior work on absentee ballots seemed like it could be illegal, a warning that went unheeded by the candidate. As his son closed his testimony with a few kind remarks about his parents, Mark Harris was in tears.
By LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ
In emotional testimony Wednesday, the son of North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said he warned his father about the absentee ballot strategy used by Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative now at the center of an election fraud scandal in the state's 9th Congressional District. John Harris testified before the North Carolina State Election Board Wednesday about allegations of election fraud. Though Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial ballot count on election night in November 2018, the election board refused to certify a winner, pointing to the accusations of fraud. John Harris, an attorney himself, said early on he was suspicious of Dowless' operation and shared his thoughts with his father and mother. John's testimony appears to refute comments made by his father that he was never warned about Dowless, who held prior felony convictions of fraud and perjury. After Mark met with Dowless, John sent his father an email on April 7, 2017, that included text of the law on the illegality of collecting a person's absentee ballot. "Good test is if you’re comfortable with the full process he uses being broadcast on the news," John emailed his father as Mark Harris contemplated hiring Dowless. John said he believed his father's mind was already made up despite his warnings.
Party officials want the state to certify a Republican congressional candidate the winner of a race amid a probe into election irregularities. North Carolina Republican Party officials accused state officials of being secretive and said they must swiftly certify a GOP congressional candidate the winner of an election unless they can present evidence the outcome of the contest was changed by illegal activity. The call comes as state election officials continue to probe irregularities in the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready in the state’s 9th Congressional District. The state board announced Friday it was pushing back the date for a public evidentiary hearing in the probe as it continues to gather evidence and now plans to hold the hearing on Jan. 11, eight days after the new Congress is seated. The resolution from the GOP executive committee in the 9th District came Monday after Harris, who leads McCready by 905 votes, suggested Republicans weren’t supporting him the way Democrats were backing his opponent. The GOP-controlled legislature passed a law last week that would require a new primary if the state board orders a do-over, leading to speculation that Republicans were trying to distance themselves from Harris. Much of the evidence that has emerged during the investigation so far suggests that McCrae Dowless, an operative working on Harris’ behalf, improperly collected absentee ballots from voters in Bladen and Robeson counties in the district. In those two counties, there was an unusually high number of absentee ballots that went unreturned to state officials.
Two more voters reported handing over their ballots to canvassers who came to their home. The day after their absentee ballot arrived in the mail in September, Luis Reyes and Yomayra Torres, a couple in Robeson County, got a nighttime visitor. It was a familiar face. The woman, Jennifer Boyd, had come with another woman a few months earlier to help the couple request their absentee ballots. Now she was back to see if they wanted help filling out the actual ballots. Reyes and Torres didn’t know who to vote for, and Boyd explained why she had voted for Mark Harris, a Republican pastor running for Congress in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Torres remembers Boyd saying she was with Harris’ campaign, and she told them about all the good he had done for their community but said they should vote for whomever they wanted. Reyes and Torres didn’t know about any of the other candidates in the race, so they both decided to vote for Harris. Once they filled out their ballots, Torres says, Boyd offered to take their ballots from them, and they agreed. Torres said Boyd left with both. It’s illegal for anyone in North Carolina, other than a “close relative,” to take custody of an absentee ballot. Reyes and Torres didn’t know that. Torres said she thought Boyd was just trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for them to cast their votes.
A probe into election fraud expands amid growing calls -- even among some Republicans -- for a new vote. The southern border of North Carolina have been the epicenter of an unfolding investigation into potential election fraud committed on behalf of — and funded by — Republicans running in statewide and federal elections in the 9th district. Much of the focus has been on Bladen County, where Soil and Water Conservation District vice chair Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. reportedly paid multiple people to illegally collect voters’ absentee ballots and deliver them to him, rather than the local board of elections. But an analysis of absentee ballots cast in neighboring Robeson County suggests that the effort to interfere with the midterm election was more extensive than previously thought. According to CNN, four people in Robeson County are listed as witnesses on dozens of absentee ballots. One individual’s name appeared on at least 57 ballot envelopes, a whopping nine percent of all absentee ballots cast in the county. A second woman signed 28 other envelopes in Robeson county, as well as 42 others in Bladen county. She is also the daughter of Dowless’s ex-wife.
When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss. The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte and blamed the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” according to three people at the gathering. Pittenger’s concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17. In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions. GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said.
Republicans have spent years warning us that voter fraud is rampant. Despite no evidence that this is the case -- election fraud in the United States is in fact rare -- the GOP has put legislation into place in states across the country to make it harder to vote, arguing that it's necessary to protect the sanctity of elections. They take voter fraud seriously, they say. It's become one of their core issues. So we would expect that, faced with a rare case of potentially serious and pervasive electoral fraud, they would jump on it -- insist on an investigation, figure out exactly what happened, punish wrongdoers and close whatever holes in the system led to the abuses. There are indeed serious allegations of election fraud tied to North Carolina's midterm elections right now in a congressional district where results appear abnormal. But instead of insisting on investigating, Republicans are waving it away and insisting there's nothing to see. Why the sudden about-face on this allegedly serious crime? Because the Republican candidate, Mark Harris won -- by 905 votes -- and may have benefited from the alleged fraud. And of course the GOP position was never about protecting our democracy at all. It was about suppressing votes for Democrats and giving themselves an unfair advantage.
A congressional race in North Carolina that seemed to be settled on election night was reopened last week amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud. The Republican candidate, Mark Harris, has a 905-vote lead over the Democrat, Dan McCready. Mr. Harris won 61 percent of submitted absentee ballots in Bladen County, even though registered Republicans accounted for only 19 percent of the ballots submitted. To do that, he would have had to win essentially every independent who voted absentee, as well as some registered Democrats. In every other county in the district — even strongly Republican ones — Mr. McCready won the absentee vote. In an affidavit sent to the elections board, one Bladen County resident, Datesha Montgomery, said a woman had come to her door in October and collected her absentee ballot, which is illegal in North Carolina. Ms. Montgomery said that she had voted only for sheriff and school board, and that the woman “said she would finish it herself.” Another resident, Emma Shipman, said in an affidavit that a woman had similarly collected her ballot, which was unsealed and unsigned. A third, Lucy Young, said she had received an absentee ballot even though she had not requested one.
Stacey Abrams, Georgia's Democratic candidate for governor, roundly dismissed the accusation by her opponent that Democrats had tried to hack the state's voter registration files. There is "no evidence" of any impropriety, Abrams told "CBS This Morning" Monday. GOP nominee Brian Kemp, who is Georgia's secretary of state, oversees elections, and on Sunday announced an investigation into the Georgia Democratic Party over the attempted hacking, just two days before the election. The secretary of state's office has cited no evidence for the probe against the Democrats.
Despite court rulings striking down efforts to throw out ballots of thousands of US citizens in Georgia, the home of the civil rights movement, Emory University professor Dr Carol Anderson said there is still a “blatant” push for minority voter suppression in the state ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. “What looks really simple, really isn't and that is how voter [identification] has basically snaked its tentacles into the American psyche” and become voter suppression, the author of One Person, No Vote, told The Independent.
The Texas NAACP has drawn attention to problems with voting machines throughout the state. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Texas State Conference of the NAACP just wrote a powerful letter to the Texas Secretary of State, Rolando B. Pablos, insisting that he protect the voting rights of all Texans after reports of ominous irregularities from voting machines throughout the state. "In the past week, we have received reports from individuals and voter advocacy groups that some Texas voters attempting to cast a straight-ticket ballot for the Democratic Party on Hart eSlate machines have seen their selection for U.S. Senator switch at the last moment to the candidate for the Republican Party," the NAACP and LDF wrote in their letter. "We have not received reports that this is happening to Texas voters attempting to cast a straight-ticket ballot for the Republican Party on these machines. But our request that your office do more on this issue is non-partisan and will protect all voters.
Gerrymandering -- drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party -- is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above -- adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend -- and wonder no more.
One suburban Georgia county has become a flashpoint for concerns over voter suppression for rejecting hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots weeks before Election Day. Gwinnett County, located northeast of Atlanta, now faces two federal lawsuits and accusations from voting rights activists who say the rejections disproportionately affect minority voters, particularly Asian Americans and African Americans. The county has rejected 595 absentee ballots, which account for more than a third of the total absentee-ballot rejections in the state, even though Gwinnett County accounts for only about 6% of absentee ballots submitted in Georgia, according to state data analyzed by CNN Friday. More than 300 of the rejected ballots belonged to African Americans and Asian Americans.
He’s investigated groups that have tried to register voters—including one led by his opponent. About a month before the election, Ho realized something was amiss. People whom she had registered were contacting her, reporting that they had never received registration cards. Then others who had tried to vote early told her they had been turned away. Ho’s intern visited the secretary of state’s website and looked up every person the nonprofit—then called the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, now Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta—had tried to register. He found that 574—about 40 percent—were not on the rolls. “That’s when we realized this is a problem,” Ho says. “These are mostly new immigrants, former refugees, that are becoming citizens, and for some reason the registration process is systematically denying them the right to vote.”
Wim Laven arrived to his polling location in Atlanta’s northern suburbs this week unsure what to make of recent allegations of voter difficulties at the ballot box. Then he waited two hours in the Georgia sun; saw one person in the line treated for heat exhaustion; and watched a second collapse, receive help from paramedics, yet refuse to be taken to the hospital — so he could remain in line and cast his ballot.
Mr. Laven is now a believer. “I have a hard time imaging this is anything but an intentional effort,” said Mr. Laven.
After the 2010 election, state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions. Overall, 24 states have put in place new restrictions since then — 13 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), 11 have laws making it harder for citizens to register, seven cut back on early voting opportunities, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database presents a sampling of proven instances of election fraud from across the country. This database is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list, but is intended to demonstrate the many ways in which fraud is committed. Preventing, deterring, and prosecuting election fraud is essential to protecting the integrity of our voting process.
It is important to protect the integrity of our elections. But we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud.
Donald Trump is citing unsubstantiated urban myths and a contested academic study to paint a false narrative about rampant voter fraud in the U.S. and the likelihood of a “rigged” election. But a subsequent review by the State Election Commission found no evidence of fraud and that mostly the cases were clerical errors.
During the 2004 United States presidential election, concerns were raised about various aspects of the voting process, including whether voting had been made accessible to all those entitled to vote, whether ineligible voters were registered, whether voters were registered multiple times, and whether the votes cast had been correctly counted. More controversial was the charge that these issues might have affected the reported outcome of the presidential election, in which the incumbent, Republican President George W. Bush, defeated the Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry. Despite the existing controversies, Kerry conceded the election the following day on November 3.
A practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander; however, that word is also a verb for the process. The term gerrymandering has negative connotations. Two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering: "cracking" (i.e. diluting the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts) and "packing" (concentrating the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts). The third tactic, shown in the top-left diagram in the diagrams to the right, is that of homogenization of all districts. In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as "majority-minority districts". Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents.
A strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting. It is distinguished from political campaigning in that campaigning attempts to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters through persuasion and organization. Voter suppression, instead, attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition. The tactics of voter suppression range from minor changes to make voting less convenient, to physically intimidating prospective voters, which is illegal. Voter suppression can be effective if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that voting laws had resulted in voter suppression and discrimination.