Podcast Looks at Allegations of Voting Fraud in North Carolina

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By all accounts, election fraud is rare.

But following the 2018 election, the small rural community of Bladen County, NC, officials threw The results of a congressional race on suspicions of fraud.

Two years ago, in the same county, state officials received similar reports of vote rigging, even though it turned out to be unfounded.

Zoe Chace, producer of the “Series” podcast and “This American Life” radio show, set out to understand how Bladen County has become fertile ground for these claims. The result of his reporting “Improvement Association” A five-part podcast series produced by Serial Productions and The New York Times. Episodes explore the corrosive power of allegations of election fraud and the role that race plays in these allegations in Bladen County.

“Bladen County was consumed with rumors and accusations of election fraud long before the 2020 presidential election, and we wanted to understand how that happened and how it impacted the lives of the people there,” Ms Chace said.

Ms. Chace spent the first time in Bladen County reporting an incident. radio story For “This is American Life”. In 2016, local Republicans accused the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, a Black Democratic suffrage group, of falsifying absentee ballots, but the allegations were denied by authorities.

A few years ago, the group had helped elect the county’s first Black sheriff, using a new tactic that encouraged black voters to use absentee ballots. Although completely legal, the method has fueled suspicions of cheating. In the years that followed, white residents began to regularly accuse the Bladen County Improvement Association of meddling in the election, despite no evidence.

Then, on a rare occasion, after local Republicans were accused of absentee vote fraud, state officials threw the 2018 election of a Republican, Mark Harris, into the congressional district that includes Bladen County. McCrae Dowless, the political agent at the center of the scandal, accused with obstruction of justice and illegal possession of ballot papers. The lawsuit is ongoing.

After this case was made public, a leader of the Bladen County Improvement Association reached out to Ms. Chace and offered to explain the local political landscape in which these allegations were widespread, and Ms. Chace returned to the community.

He first looked at the allegations against the association, interviewing poll workers, political supporters, and North Carolina State Election Board officials. It also examined absentee ballot envelopes, which some of the nursing home residents claimed had been tampered with, and reviewed years of electoral fraud complaints and documents from the state election board. He found nothing to indicate that the group was cheating.

“We were lucky to have a lot of documents,” Ms. Chace said.

The producer of the series, Nancy Updike, said that they are also examining the series. A history of racism in allegations of election fraud used to disenfranchise black voters. Ms. Updike said the idea of ​​Black voting in US elections often led to allegations of voter fraud from whites.

“Since Reconstruction, white Americans have repeatedly brought up the idea of ​​Black Americans voting fraudulently to prevent Black people from voting,” he said.

Ms. Chace’s reports also showed how damaging these fraud allegations can be. For the Bladen County Improvement Association, the allegations were hard to shake and led to hostility and divisions within the organization. Eventually, years of unfounded allegations eroded the group’s political power.

Ms. Updike said, “The unsubstantiated accusation of election fraud is a really dangerous force in America right now.” “And in this one place, you can see how it’s been pulled into the fabric of this place and ruining people’s lives.”

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