The chief investigator for the North Carolina Board of Elections took absentee by mail ballot request forms and their return envelopes from Bladen County immediately after the Nov. 6 election, according to the chair of the county's board of elections.
Bobby Ludlum, chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, told WFAE Wednesday that the board's chief investigator, Joan Fleming, came to Elizabethtown to get the records during the week of the election.
"She was here the day after, or around that time," said Ludlum, a Republican who chairs the county's board. "I've heard rumors and allegations (about what they are looking for) but they haven't said anything."
Bladen County is in the 9th Congressional District.
The State Board of Elections voted 9-0 Tuesday not to certify the results of that race, where Republican Mark Harris is leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. It cited a state statute that allows the board to take any action to ensure that an election is determined "without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities” that may have changed the results of an election.
We were surprised by yesterday’s developments at the State Board of Elections, but our legal team is fully engaged. We trust the process. This morning, we sent a letter to the SBOE asking for clarity. We continue to prepare in DC to serve the constituents of the 9th District! pic.twitter.com/zxumZBnz8V
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNC9) November 28, 2018
Harris won Bladen County by 1,557 votes.
The board met in closed session Tuesday after board member Joshua Malcolm alleged that "unfortunate activities" took place during the race.
“I’m very familiar with the unfortunate activities that have happened in my part of the state," Malcolm said during the meeting. "And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, and which has been repeatedly referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys to clean up. Those things have not taken place.”
Malcolm did not elaborate about his allegations. He is from Robeson County, which is in the 9th District. He was appointed by former Republican Governor Patrick McCrory in 2013 and re-appointed to the board by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, Tuesday night he believed the allegations were about Bladen County, which is in the eastern part of the 9th Congressional District.
"If someone is going to steal votes out of Bladen County, they have to steal well more than 1,000," Woodhouse said. "Because you don't know what the margin is going to be ... I mean that's crazy."
Woodhouse said the state board should have certified the race Tuesday.
Two years ago, Bladen County resident McCrae Dowless alleged that there was a "massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots." Dowless' allegations focused on a small race for the county's Soil and Water Conservation District, but it received statewide attention because it was the same election as the close race for governor between Cooper and McCrory.
Dowless's allegation was later dismissed.
Bladen County had 684 people vote absentee by-mail in the race, according to the State Board of Elections. That was nearly 7 and a half percent of all ballots cast – the highest percentage of absentee by mail votes in the district.
Adding to the uncertainty over the 9th District, is the future of the state board itself. It’s scheduled to hold a conference call Friday but a three-judge panel has ruled its current makeup is unconstitutional.
Their decision takes effect Dec. 3. The state's chief deputy attorney general, Alexander Peters, wrote a letter Wednesday that said he believes the board will shrink from nine members to five members, who will be appointed by the governor.
A spokesman for the board, Patrick Gannon, said everyone is in limbo.