Election fraud fears in North Carolina keep the midterms story alive

Last week, a bipartisan state board unanimously voted not to certify an election result in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, where Republican candidate Mark Harris thought he had narrowly beaten his Democratic rival, Dan McCready. At issue were irregularities in two rural counties where a disproportionate number of voters requested absentee ballots, then did not return them. Allegations abound that an operation led by an independent contractor tied to the Republican campaign tampered with those ballots. Over the past 24 hours, in particular, claims of potential electoral fraud have started to cut through in the national press.

To get readers and viewers up-to-speed, many national outlets have leaned on excellent local stories, including the Raleigh News & Observer’s analysis that unreturned ballots disproportionately belonged to minority voters, and the same paper’s work with the Charlotte Observer to dig into the contractor at the center of the scandal, who has prior convictions for fraud and perjury. Yesterday, local TV station WSOC reported that 159 submitted absentee ballots were signed by just eight different witnesses, one of whom told a reporter for the station that the contractor paid her to deliver ballots to him. Original reporting by Popular Information (a newsletter written by the founding editor of ThinkProgress, Judd Legum) and The Washington Post moved the story further along.

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The delayed, careful coverage of the North Carolina story contrasts with the noisy national conversation about voter fraud that tracked the recount of gubernatorial and US Senate ballots in Florida last month—a conversation stoked by conspiracy theories on social media, then given a megaphone by President Trump. It’s right that national outlets should proceed with caution this time: they’re dealing with a complex framework of local characters, institutions, and rules, and fraud has not yet been proven. Nonetheless, it feels jarring that (so far, at least) suspicions grounded in meticulously reported fact have attracted less coverage than Trump’s totally baseless Florida allegations.

The story may yet make it to the top of the news cycle—an outcome that will become a lot more likely should fraud be established or state officials order a do-over. For now, it’s fighting for airtime amid relentless coverage of George H.W. Bush’s death and growing speculation that Robert Mueller may be wrapping up his Russia probe, among other big stories. It’s not alone: in recent days, a range of stories linked to the midterms and their aftermath have appeared. Yesterday, many outlets reported that Republican lawmakers in states like Wisconsin and Michigan are moving to slash the power of their governors before GOP incumbents cede office to Democrats elected in November. That idea came from North Carolina, in 2016.

The North Carolina fraud story ties into multiple broader narratives that may further clarify the muddy picture that emerged on election night—for example, Democrats subsequently surging in seats they thought they’d lost, the concerted disenfranchisement of minority voters by Republicans, and the president’s fear-mongering about voter fraud. All these topics have seen good reporting, but feel somehow disconnected. Joining the dots could give them greater national resonance.

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Below, more on North Carolina and the ongoing midterms story:

  • Aggressive local journalism: Watch WSOC reporter Joe Bruno’s bombshell interview with absentee ballot witness Ginger Eason here.
  • Fact-based suspicions: For good rundowns of the complicated picture in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, listen to J. Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, on FiveThirtyEight’s Politics Podcast, or watch McClatchy reporter Brian Murphy talk with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
  • Back to the ballot box: Voters in Georgia will go to the polls again today to vote in a runoff election for secretary of state, after neither candidate won a majority in a close race to succeed Brian Kemp in November. Kemp is stepping up to the governor’s mansion despite allegations of voter suppression marring his win over Democrat Stacey Abrams last month. The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea assesses whether voter anger about that might juice turnout today.
  • Lame ducks? For Mother Jones, Ari Berman writes that Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina are racing to “gut” voting rights before newly elected Democrats take office in those states.

Other notable stories:

  • Following The New York Times’s success with its Daily podcast, the Post is out with its own daily offering, Post Reports, hosted by Martine Powers. Yesterday’s first episode featured a new lead in a cold murder case, and a discussion of how climate change became a partisan issue in the US.
  • Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that the collapse of digital media companies like Mic is hurting a generation of young journalists. “With the tragic demise of local newspapers, places like Mic have become the entry point into the craft for a lot of young journalists. What’s more, their newsrooms have been admirably diverse, a diversity that their journalism has admirably reflected,” Sullivan says. “As they go under, such entry points disappear. And the journalists who have been through this ugly process—sometimes more than once—burn out.”
  • Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze is merging with another online conservative media platform, Mark Levin’s CRTV, to found a new company called Blaze Media. Elsewhere in the conservative media universe, the Washington Examiner is expanding, with plans to relaunch its weekly magazine for a national subscriber base.
  • For CJR, June Cross, an independent documentarian and professor at Columbia Journalism School, takes issue with a Post critic’s assertion that “documentaries aren’t journalism” because filmmakers prioritize emotion over information—a claim akin to saying “longform magazine writers aren’t journalists,” Cross writes.
  • Britain’s politicians aren’t just squabbling over Brexit—they can’t even agree on which channel should host a debate on the issue, The Guardian’s Jim Waterson reports. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May insists she will be debating Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on the BBC, while Corbyn insists he will be debating May on ITV. At issue are differing formats that would, respectively, favor May and Corbyn, their camps believe.
  • Bari Weiss, an opinion columnist at the Times, and Eve Peyser, a politics and culture writer for Vice, hated each other on Twitter—then met in person and found they got along just fine. The pair reflected on their real-life rapprochement in a piece for the Times. Twitter had strong opinions (perhaps because it hasn’t met itself in person yet).
  • And The New Yorker’s Emma Allen has this fun read on Babette Bombshell, a genderqueer actor who was cast as Roger Ailes’s body double in the documentary Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes. “Roger was terrified of anything that was not his very narrow definition of normal, so it just seemed like cosmic justice,” the film’s director, Alexis Bloom, said.

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Editor’s Note: The headline on this story has been updated.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.