If you read national media reports regarding the NC 9thcongressional district debacle, you’d think Republicans have been in charge in southeastern NC for 100 years and invented shady election methods to stay in power rather than the other way around. Donnie Osmond use to sing that one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch. In politics, that’s only true if you’re a Democrat.
That’s not entirely true. Democrats hate election fraud just as much as Republicans and have been hurt by it even more as there are more Democratic candidates. After all, most irregularity here is Democrat on Democrat fraud and all elections have some shady characters with varying degrees of ill-gotten votes. The problem is how to determine if election irregularities rise to the level of requiring a re-do. The State Board of Elections struggles with this question.
In 2016, they dismissed absentee ballot fraud allegations when the question was over Governor Cooper. In 2018, a Bladen operative who previously worked for Democrats but now working for Republican Mark Harris is the question. Hopefully, a remedy will come soon.
While National media is interested in absentee ballots in Bladen, they are keenly interested in our term, “hauling” in Robeson. We’ve answered questions for everyone from CNN to the New York Times as they try to learn about varying methods to harvest votes. “Hauling” is Robeson’s unique contribution and it is simply another form of vote harvesting. The manner in which it is executed is a dangerous cocktail.
We’ve shared that Republicans aren’t against providing rides to the polls. But this is one method that has become more than a ride to the polls.
Understand that the medium income in Robeson County is $31,298. A “hauler” can make that amount in an election season. Then there are disbursements in smaller increments for folks working lower in that structure. This is where Get Out the Vote (GOTV) by providing rides transforms from benevolence to a business and voters suddenly become a commodity.
Once it becomes a business, “haulers” simply work for the highest bidder. Again, its typically Democrat on Democrat and not about ideology or platform. It’s about money and when people become income, things become sinister.
In 2016, “haulers” allegedly took voters to their polls in Scotland. Then they would load them back up, drive into Robeson and allegedly drop them off at a Robeson poll. Naturally, their names wouldn’t show up at the poll and they had to cast a provisional ballot.
“Haulers” or vote harvesters get paid by how many they bring to the polls. If you take them to more than one poll you double or triple the money with the same people. And before you think this doesn’t change outcomes because those provisional ballots will be invalidated – think again.
In the 2016 incident, about 20 provisional ballots had been put through the voting machine before observers caught it. This was 9:00 am in the morning. Imagine the damage that could have been done in a whole day of no one noticing. Imagine the damage that no one catches by voting in someone else’s name. When voting becomes a business enterprise, incentive to commit voting irregularity is a real risk.
Voter ID will help with some of this in-person voting fraud. But things like absentee ballots which is the current concern is fraught with problems. Unsecure ballots and lack of good validation procedures is a problem.
There is also a problem with having to run a gauntlet of candidates to reach the polls. Voters feel they must fight to make it through and both parties have noted this as another issue.
A couple of things would solve these problems. We know about how much “haulers” or vote harvesters make because campaigns must report disbursements when they hire them. If “haulers” are making the median income then certain levels should be reportable as well so the board of elections can track activity. Broadening the campaigning distance from polls isn’t a bad idea either. More methods can be put into place to curb nefarious activity.
The point is Democrats and Republicans both disdain fraud and irregularity. It is something they can work together to improve.
Phillip Stephens, Chairman
Robeson County Republican Party