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After 9th District Investigation, NC Lawmakers Move To Prevent Absentee Ballot Tampering

Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers has introduced a bill designed to crack down on absentee ballot fraud.

The measure would make it a Class 2 misdemeanor to sell or pay for completed mail-in ballots. Its sponsors say it would prevent the kind of ballot fraud that was alleged to have happened in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District election last year. It's not yet clear whether the bill has support from Republican leaders in the legislature.

A political operative hired by Republican Mark Harris' campaign has been accused of collecting completed absentee ballots ahead of the Republican primary and general election. McCrae Dowless has been charged with obstruction of justice and possessing an absentee ballot.

The bill also sets aside more than $345,000 for three more investigators and two data analysts at the state Board of Elections.

"Our investigators – we have five now – they made 401 contacts total, and they completed 144 voter interviews in Bladen and Robeson Counties in conjunction with the 9th Congressional District investigation," said Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon, who described an exhaustive process.

"Typically, you want two investigators to be at every interview, both for safety reasons for the investigators and to have backup if someone's getting interviewed and they say one thing, and then come back later and say another. You have another witness there that heard what they said the first time," Gannon said.

The 9th District investigation culminated in a four-day evidentiary hearing, after which members of the Board of Elections voted unanimously to order a new election. Early voting for the Republican primary starts Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 North Carolina Public Radio

Will Michaels started his professional radio career at WUNC.