By Fred Lucas | The Daily Signal
The paid operatives are sometimes called “ballot brokers.” In Florida, they were known as “boleteros,” and in Texas they were called “politiqueras.” Both of these states passed laws to ban ballot harvesting after significant scandals.
HR 1, the wish list bill of election proposals that Democrats call the “For the People Act” that failed to pass, would have prohibited state bans on ballot harvesting. The bill’s text said the state “shall permit a voter to designate any person to return a voted and sealed absentee ballot … and may not put any limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return.”
Here are seven examples of elections overturned after ballot harvesting scandals.
1. North Carolina Congressional Race
Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. was a convicted felon for committing insurance fraud. Nevertheless, for years numerous political candidates from both parties in North Carolina had turned to him—and his consulting firm Red Dome Group—to try to win elections.
In 2018, Mark Harris, a Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, hired Dowless’ firm to work for his campaign. Early on Mark Harris’ son—John Harris—warned his father against bringing Dowless into the campaign because of the previous election shenanigans. Harris clearly should have listened.
In a gloomy year for Republicans, Harris went on to defeat his Democrat opponent Dan McCready by 905 votes, about 0.3% of the ballots cast that November.
However, the victory would unravel. Although Democrats typically laugh at even the suggestion that mass mail-in voting might be prone to fraud, in this case, North Carolinians and the nation would see Democrats getting a nasty taste of what it’s like being on the losing end of fraud.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections refused to certify the results after evidence of what it called “concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots.” The fraud was heavily about vote trafficking, also known as ballot harvesting, in which third parties, including candidates and political operatives, collect and deliver ballots.
The North Carolina election board’s investigation determined that absentee ballot “requests were fraudulently submitted under forged signatures, including a deceased voter.” The final report says that Dowless paid people to “collect absentee request forms, to collect absentee ballots, and to falsify absentee ballot witness certifications.” His employees were compensated based on how many absentee ballots they collected. So, corrupt incentives were built in.
For his part, Mark Harris, who denied knowing what Dowless was doing, admitted a new election should be held—and declined to run in it.
After an investigation that included 142 voter interviews, the board ended up voiding the Harris victory as well as voiding two other local elections. It ordered a new special election. The board determined Dowless ran the fraud scheme that was “enabled by a well-funded and highly organized criminal operation.”
The board further determined the election “was corrupted by fraud, improprieties, and irregularities so pervasive that its results are tainted as the fruit of an operation manifestly unfair to the voters and corrosive to our system of representative government.” Because of the “coordinated, unlawful, and well-funded absentee ballot scheme” that “perpetrated fraud and corruption upon the election,” the state Board of Elections ordered a new election. The members determined it wasn’t possible to “determine the precise number of ballots” affected by the fraud and whether it determined the outcome.
A Wake County grand jury indicted Dowless in February 2019 for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, possession of absentee ballots, and perjury in connection to both the 2016 general election and 2018 primary election. However, in April 2022, Dowless died of lung cancer before going to trial.
Republican Dan Bishop won the September 2019 special election over McCready.
This case and others prove that a well-funded, well-organized plot to steal an election can occur. It was stopped in this case—but the fact is that what went on in North Carolina isn’t entirely illegal in other states. Yes, outright forgery and voter intimidation are outlawed virtually everywhere. But laws that specifically allow ballot harvesting invite such practices.
2. Messing With Texas Ballots
In 2016, former Weslaco City Commissioner Guadalupe Rivera pleaded guilty to one count of providing illegal “assistance” to a voter in a 2013 race he won by 16 votes.
Rivera admitted to filling out an absentee ballot “in a way other than the way the voter directed or without direction from the voter.”
A judge determined that 30 ballots were cast illegally and ordered a new election, which Rivera lost. He initially faced 16 related charges, but 15 were dropped as part of a plea deal. He was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine.
3. Coerced Ballots in Florida
In 2017, in Eatonville, Florida, Mayor Anthony Grant was convicted of a felony charge of voting fraud and misdemeanor absentee voting violations. Prosecutors said that as a candidate in 2015, Grant coerced absentee voters to cast ballots for him.
In at least one case, prosecutors said, Grant personally solicited an absentee vote from a nonresident. Grant, a former mayor, lost the in-person vote but won the election with more than twice the number of absentee ballots that incumbent Bruce Mount got.
After Grant’s indictment, then-Gov. Rick Scott suspended the mayor. After his conviction, he was sentenced to 400 hours of community service and four years’ probation.
4. Empire State Trouble
New York State Assembly candidate Hector Ramirez pleaded guilty to one count of criminal possession of a forged instrument during his 2014 campaign.
Prosecutors charged Ramirez with deceiving voters into giving their absentee ballots to his campaign on the false premise that it would submit them. Instead, Ramirez’s campaign inserted his name on at least 35 absentee ballots, prosecutors said.
Ramirez initially won, but a recount determined that he lost by two votes.
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett ruled that Ramirez could not run for office again for three years.
5. Vote or Get Evicted
State prosecutors argued that Mayor Ruth Robinson threatened to evict residents from properties she owns if they didn’t vote for her.
In clear abuse of local government power in Martin, Kentucky, Mayor Ruth Robinson, her husband, and her sons were all convicted of voter fraud after they intimidated poor and disabled citizens living in public housing and in properties that Robinson owns into voting for her on absentee ballots in the 2014 election—some of which Robinson herself had filled out.
The family members offered bribes to others for buying votes, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to 90 months in prison.
6. The East Chicago Way
In the 2003 mayor’s race in East Chicago, Indiana, challenger George Pabey had a 199-vote election night lead over eight-term incumbent Mayor Robert Patrick. But after 278 absentee votes came in, it appeared the incumbent was the winner.
Local political operative Allan “Twig” Simmons, working for the mayor, convinced voters in the city to allow him to fill out their absentee ballots in exchange for jobs. Simmons ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
The trial lasted a week and a half and included 165 witnesses. The judge determined that the mayor’s allies “perverted the absentee voting process and compromised the integrity and results of that election.” The judge found “direct, competent, and convincing evidence that established the pervasive fraud, illegal conduct, and violations of elections law” that proved the “voluminous, widespread and insidious nature of the misconduct.”
In a scam that involved vote buying, voter intimidation, and phony absentee voter application forms, the fraud led to at least seven convictions or guilty pleas by 2008. When the case made its way to the Indiana Supreme Court, the state’s high court said a new election was “compelled” because “a deliberate series of actions occurred making it impossible to determine the candidate who received the highest number of legal votes cast in the election.”
7. Voting Vice in Miami
In 1997, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo won overwhelmingly in a five-way race with in-person voting, but it was not quite a majority. So, the Nov. 4 contest went into a runoff on Nov. 13, in which his opponent, Xavier Suarez, got two-thirds of the absentee votes and won the election—or so it seemed. Law enforcement found evidence of at least 5,000 fraudulent absentee ballots.
Fifty-four people were convicted in the voting fraud case, including a Miami City commissioner charged with being accessory after the fact to voter fraud, the commissioner’s chief of staff, and the chief of staff’s father, according to the Miami-Dade County grand jury report.
Investigators found the overall 1997 scam involved stolen ballots, false registration addresses, false witnessed ballots, and hundreds of ballots illegally cast obtained by 29 “ballot brokers” who invoked their right not to testify to avoid self-incrimination. During the scheme, volunteers pressured elderly food stamp recipients into voting.
The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for uncovering the election wrongdoing. The newspaper told the story of a 70-year-old woman recovering from a stroke at a hospital who said she was badgered by the harvesters to vote for Suarez. There were other stories of seniors in hospitals and nursing homes being taken advantage of.
The trial court ordered a new election, but the appeals court ruled that the city shouldn’t bother and overturned the election, reinstating Carollo as mayor. The appeals court ruled that given such “massive absentee voter fraud,” the best solution was “to not encourage such fraud” by holding a new election.
“[W]ere we to approve a new election as the proper remedy following extensive absentee voting fraud, we would be sending out the message that the worst that would happen in the face of voter fraud would be another election,” the appeals court said.