Fact Check: False Statements Around 9th District Race; New Voter Bill

Mar 20, 2019

For this weekly fact check of North Carolina politics, we're returning to the 9th Congressional District and the upcoming special election there.

The state Republican Party sent a fundraising email last week that said Democrats forced the election. To quickly recap, the decision to hold a new election was made in February by the five-member State Board of Elections following a hearing on fraud allegations in last year's race.

Paul Specht of the Raleigh News & Observer joins us now to separate truth from fiction.

Marshall Terry: Paul, Democrats control three of the seats on the elections board and Republicans have the other two, but the decision to hold a new election was unanimous. So, how could Democrats have forced the election?

Paul Specht: They couldn't have forced a new election. It takes four out of five votes to launch a new election. So with both those Republican votes in support, it's flat out false to suggest that Democrats forced their hand.

And even back in November when the board had a different makeup — there have been a couple of court rulings that have reconstructed the board — Republicans were in support of launching the investigation.

[Related Content: Fact Check: McConnell Uses 9th District Race To Criticize Democrats On Election Security]

Terry: And also the Republican candidate in last year's race Mark Harris even called for a new election.

Specht: That's right. On the fourth day of the hearing, Harris was in the middle of testifying and then after a brief recess asked the board for a new election. It was very unexpected. At the time, the Republican Party even said they supported his decision and respected it. And so it sort of caught us by surprise at Politifact that this fundraising email would go out and suggest that the new election was purely partisan.

Terry: All right. So how did this one rate — this e-mail from the state GOP?

Specht: We rated it false. There is no component of truth in the claim that Democrats forced a special election. That's not true. The special election was supported by both Republicans on the elections board, as well as Mark Harris the candidate and the Republican Party at the time.

Terry: Well, let's now turn to something else that you fact check — it's also related to the 9th District. In a tweet on March 9, Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas wrote, "The Democrats sweeping bill HR 1 would legalize the kind of fraud the North Carolina Board of Elections found in last year's race." And he was referring to absentee ballot harvesting there. First, briefly, what is HR 1 and what does it say as far as absentee ballots are concerned?

Specht: HR 1 is the first bill that was introduced by Democrats after they gained control of the house. It aims to make voting easier for people across the country. One of the ways it would address absentee ballots would be to make it so that across the country, you would be able to request an absentee ballot no matter what your condition is.

In some states, this is called "no excuse absentee balloting." Some states have strict rules for who can request an absentee ballot. You have to be ill or disabled or out of the country or in uniform, maybe in the military. North Carolina is a no excuse state.

Terry: So is Crenshaw right then when he says HR 1 would legalize ballot harvesting?

Credit Paul Specht

Specht: He's not. What happened in North Carolina's 9th District is that absentee ballots were illegally collected. State law bars anyone other than a family member from collecting a voter's absentee ballot. And in some cases if the voter hadn't filled out the bubbles, political operatives filled them out illegally. And then in some cases, they filed absentee by mail ballots but forged signatures on them.

This bill HR 1 does not address any of those things. It does not expand who can collect absentee ballots and does not allow people to fill out ballots for other voters, certainly. And it doesn't loosen laws for people who sign or witness absentee ballots. So we rated this false.

Terry: That's just one of the tweets that you looked at from Crenshaw. A few days later, he tweeted out what looked like a clarification of some sorts. What exactly did he say in that second tweet?

Specht: This was funny because he sent the initial tweet over the weekend and we emailed him at 11:00 a.m. the following Monday. About 30 minutes later on Monday, he sent this clarification that says HR 1 enables ballot harvesting by pushing no excuse absentee voting — which he referred to as no fault absentee ballots — and by not outlawing the practice of ballot harvesting. So he's saying, in essence, that no excuse absentee balloting — you know if there are more people requesting absentee ballots — that opens the door to more fraud. And then he criticized the bill authors for not outlawing ballot harvesting altogether. Those claims are misleading, too.

What happened in the 9th District was already illegal. So by suggesting that more laws would have stopped it is not necessarily true. And then his claim that no excuse absentee balloting opens the door to more fraud — maybe so, but I think it's inaccurate to say that it causes it.

Terry: So how would you rate that second tweet then from Crenshaw?

Specht: Definitely false and misleading.

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.