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We’ve had time to digest last week’s 9th Congressional District hearings, so let us summarize what we learned.
1. Campaigns want to win so badly they either turn their heads to or commit illegal activities.
Last week’s hearings were about shenanigans committed by Republicans, but Democrats don’t have room to crow; their team had similar schemes. For too long we have winked at dirty tricks, “get out the vote” campaigns little more than buying votes, questionable campaign contributions, improper expenditures and other violations. In their pursuit of victory, campaigns defend most any action by justifying that they cannot help anyone if they don’t get elected. Victory is sweet, but sweeter still is winning by following the rules and winning fairly.
2. The same person who cost Dr. Mark Harris the election in 2016 did so in 2018.
We may never know how many elections Leslie McCrae Dowless skewed through his illegal absentee ballot schemes. We only hope that criminal actions result in those guilty receiving large monetarily fines, incarceration or both, as a signal that you will pay dearly if you break our laws and tarnish our elections.
3. Democracy only works when citizens are vigilant.
We hope this will be a wake-up call. McCrae Dowless can’t be the only one who figured out how to manipulate voting laws. We’re betting his or other schemes have occurred in many counties. John Harris, Mark Harris’ son, studied the voting numbers and correctly deduced there was illegality. Why didn’t others? Candidates, county election boards, county parties and citizens need to be just as vigilant and just as willing to come forward to preserve election integrity.
4. Mark Harris couldn’t win.
Harris announced he would not run, citing health concerns. There is little point in further persecuting him, but it is undeniable that his integrity and reputation have been smeared and he wouldn’t have won had he run.
5. Our systems worked.
The new State Board of Elections came to a unanimous decision after it became obvious what that decision should be, but this board appeared to work in a bipartisan and honorable way. It was also reaffirming to know that Kim Strach and the staff had prepared well for the hearings. We can have onfidence in our system and the process.
6. Our legal system let us down.
We are delighted that Wake County’s DA has issued indictments in this case, but this isn’t the first instance where evidence of improprieties in Bladen and other counties have been reported. What happened with those complaints? Either they weren’t pursued or we weren’t informed of their outcomes. We need to know that our legal authorities are just as interested as are we in preserving the integrity of our elections.
7. We need impartial and bipartisan voter reforms.
We cannot eliminate absentee voting, but surely there are better ways to prevent fraudulent schemes, beginning with more vigilance of local boards of elections. We call on elected representatives to stop scheming how to make elections more partisan and concentrate on making them fairer.
8. Nonpartisan redistricting is essential.
These hearings weren’t about redistricting, but there was a subtle undertone running through them. In 2016, a U.S. district court overturned the previous boundaries and ordered the 9th redrawn. It now resembles a broken chair tilted on its back legs, encompassing part or all of nine counties. More compact congressional and legislative districts can and must be drawn that eliminate gerrymandering. Whole county districts consisting of the same number of registered voters (regardless of party registration) put us back to a time when the person or party with the best ideas won. This still won’t fix problems related to money, but let’s get redistricting right first.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.