Judge James Baker, Republican member of the NC State Board of Elections, voted with the two Democrats yesterday to defeat the forces of Governor Patrick McCrory, 3-2.
It was "the Bladen County case." McCrory's lawyers wanted 400 African-American absentee ballots thrown out over all sorts of suspicions.
It's hard to piece together from available print sources, but here's what I understand about Bladen County (mainly relying on the eye-witness tweeting of InSightUs.Org):
Leslie McRae Dowless Jr., 60, an incumbent Bladen County Soil and Water Commissioner -- one of five District Supervisors -- a former Democrat currently registered Unaffiliated who also just won reelection on November 8 -- filed an election protest on November 15 -- a week later -- alleging voter fraud through “a massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots” by the Bladen Improvement Association PAC, "a committee funded by the North Carolina Democratic Party and numerous local and statewide Democrats" (Bladen Journal). Dowless won reelection and wanted revenge on the Bladen Improvement Association, which had endorsed and helped him in 2012 -- "They had me on their sample ballot," Dowless testified -- but then…
“In 2016, were you endorsed by the Bladen County Improvement Association?” Joshua Malcolm asked.
That may have been the moment when Judge Baker changed his vote.
So there's the motive for the Bladen County protest -- pure political revenge (and thank you, Joshua Malcolm).
Evidence of fraud? … not so much. Oh evidence of aggressive ballot-harvesting, no doubt about it. An organized campaign to solicit and get people to vote absentee with paid campaign workers going door-to-door in some neighborhoods and soliciting people to request absentee ballots and then "assisting" those voters in getting those ballots in on time, including witnessing them. There's always the possibility -- however remote -- that one-on-one "assistance" can cross a line toward coersion or fraud. Possibility … the door the Republicans kicked open like a SWAT team.
NB. It was the Republican General Assembly that made absentee voting easier -- no photo i.d. required -- and the Republicans are past masters at "ballot harvesting." They have regularly beaten the Democrats in the absentee vote. But they obviously don't like it when Democrats, especially African-Americans, also get busy after absentee ballots.
But I haven't even gotten to the best part yet!
The Republican lawyers attempted to keep Dowless from testifying. They in effect hid him. Malcolm was outraged, requested staff to immediately issue a subpoena for Mr. Dowless, at which point, or soon after, McCrory's lawyers presented Mr. Dowless for questioning.
Malcolm asked, “Does Mr. Dowless, the individual who brought all these people here today … does your client intend to answer questions today without being immunized?”
McCrory's attorney Roger Knight: “He is present, and will testify today unless advised otherwise by his counsel. He is not waiving his 5th Amendment right to not incriminate himself.”
Under cross-examination by Joshua Malcolm, Dowless revealed that he had been "informed of irregularities" and induced to file his protest by a lawyer with the North Carolina Republican Party. Dowless also eventually indicated that he himself had been engaging in ballot harvesting, also with paid assistance, but he "took the 5th" when asked by Malcolm who had provided him with the campaign finance report documents appended to his protest filing.
SBOE member Malcolm, boring in: “Do you know Caitlyn Croom?” (one of the get-out-the-vote canvassers charged with wrongdoing in Dowless’s protest).
“Yessir, I know her. She helped me with my campaign.”
“Did you pay her?”
“Yessir, I paid her for bringing in completed absentee ballot forms.”
So Dowless was engaged in the exact same ballot harvesting that he was complaining about and about which he's fearful he might be charged. Hence, the invoking of the 5th Amendment. Mr. Dowless did not even seen clear on the allegations in the protest he had signed, which the Republican lawyer had evidently written for him.
Interesting crux revealed under Josh Malcolm's questioning: Dowless had also been contacted before the election by SBOE "investigators" (because Dowless had reached out to the SBOE to complain?). Did the SBOE investigators tip off the McCrory team that there might be grounds for throwing out black ballots in Bladen and that Dowless could be the vehicle?
The lengths to which the McCrory and Woodhouse regime have been going to keep Pat's ineffectual posterior in the governor's mansion … and the fact that Grant Whitney, the Republican Chair of the SBOE, and The Finder-of-Taint Rhonda Amoroso, the other Republican, were willing with their SBOE votes to wipe out a few hundred ballots based on Mr. Dowless's testimony -- just shows the tawdry depths to which desperation will sink:
"It has to be hard being the first North Carolina Governor to lose a reelection race. He couldn’t do what Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Jim Hunt again and Mike Easley did. Bev Perdue was a one-termer, but she wasn’t run out."