Guest columnist: Things we learned during 9th District hearings

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2019

By Tom Campbell

We’ve had time to digest last week’s 9th District congressional hearings, so let’s state some of what we learned.

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.

The same person who cost Mark Harris the election in 2016 did so in 2018. We may never know how many elections 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.

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.

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.

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 bi-partisan and honorable way. It was also reaffirming to know that Kim Strach and the staff had prepared well for the hearings. We can have confidence in our system and the process.

Our legal system let us down. There have been repeated complaints of election problems in Bladen County and the board had turned over evidence to legal authorities. We never learned what happened as a result. Have the DA and/or U.S. Attorney not acted at all? If they have, why hasn’t anything been reported from their investigations? They need to be held more accountable or we need to give our state board more power when they uncover foul play.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State treasurer.