Editorial: Gov. Cooper, Atty. Gen. Stein need to probe 9th District election troubles

Posted December 26, 2018 5:00 a.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018; Editorial #8374
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Of the more than 8,200 pages of interviews, reports, records and other evidence the North Carolina Board of Elections has gathered in connection with allegations of election fraud in the 9th Congressional District, there’s a single page that is a must-read.

“Individuals and potentially groups of individuals engaged in efforts to manipulate election results through the absentee ballot process. The evidence we have obtained suggest that these efforts may have taken place in the past and if not addressed will likely continue for future elections.” It was sent on Jan. 30, 2017 – 23 months ago – by state Board of Elections’ Executive Director Kim Strach to then acting U.S. Attorney for eastern N.C. John Stuart Bruce.

Given this letter came amid the alarmist action of the General Assembly over potential voter fraud and voter ID (not related to absentee ballots), this should have been something that shocked those same legislators, rang prosecutors’ alarms and prompted immediate action.

Unfortunately, there’s been little significant action. The turmoil we’re seeing in the 9th Congressional District election is evidence enough. It is time for some serious action from our governor and state attorney general. More on that later.

The silence has been deafening from federal prosecutors. While the current U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon has boasted of indicting 19 non-U.S. citizens with illegal voting in the state, there has been NO WORD on what if anything was done in response to Strach’s two-year-old plea.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman was sent the case and started looking into allegations of election irregularities last January after Bladen County DA Jon David, a Republican was concerned about potential conflicts of interest.

Freeman, in an interview, said she was disappointed her office wasn’t able to complete its investigations prior to the start of voting in 2018. “In an ideal world we would have been able to complete the 2016 allegations and we would not have had the new allegations come forward,” she said. Sensitivity not to interfere with 2018 elections slowed the latest investigation.”

Freeman said her office was in contact with federal prosecutors, the FBI and the SBI as its investigation into the 2016 allegations progressed.

While important concerns abound about the lack of action by state and federal prosecutors when informed -- in credible, plain and direct terms – of election irregularities there actually is a more serious question.

Why didn’t state elections officials and these prosecutors, knowing there was REAL potential for election troubles, issue warnings to local elections officials? Why didn’t they make it a special point of highly visible emphasis to instruct local elections boards on proper handling of absentee ballots?

If merely a fraction of the energy that’s been put into the less-than-necessary-but-nice voter ID distraction, was directed to assuring absentee ballots were properly handled, North Carolina might have been able to certify the ONLY congressional election in the nation that remains unresolved.

This is no small matter. It should not wait until state or federal prosecutors get around to completing work on an investigation.

It would be nice if we could count on, and trust the General Assembly to look into this matter. But legislative leaders are more motivated to gain partisan advantage than assuring every eligible voter can vote, voting is not manipulated or abused, and all votes are fairly counted.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein need to bring together an independent, non-partisan panel to look into why there was no action to investigate the voting irregularities in Bladen and other southeastern North Carolina counties, identify REAL problems with current voting procedures and recommend common sense solutions to make sure our elections are clean and fair.

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