For years, the North Carolina GOP has made it a priority to ferret out election-related fraud.

Now that there’s evidence of potential fraud close to home, the state’s Republicans need to be the ones leading the crusade to investigate it.

I’m referring, of course, to the information gradually coming to light regarding absentee by mail irregularities in Bladen County related to the 9th Congressional District race. On Election Day, Republican Mark Harris squeaked out a 900-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready in what was one of the most closely watched races in the country.

On the eve the race was to be certified, the State Board of Elections put a sudden halt, making cryptic references to improper behavior. We still don’t have much more info than that from them, but more evidence has leaked out in the following week.

It looks more and more clear that something didn’t go right in Bladen County.

At best, a ham-handed get-out-the-vote effort has sullied what should be a major victory for Republicans. At worst, a Congressional candidate turned a blind eye to illegal activity.

For now, it’s more than reasonable to give Mark Harris and his political consultants the benefit of the doubt. In a congressional campaign spanning more than a half-dozen counties, you hire people and expect them to behave ethically. You can’t micromanage people in a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

But now, Harris should be out front leading the charge to fully investigate the claims of absentee by mail impropriety. Instead, he’s pushed the State Board of Elections to immediately certify the election.

Doing so puts his own political career at risk. Does Mark Harris really want to be seated in Congress with a tainted reputation?

To be sure, this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any skepticism of how this debacle has unfolded.

  • Yes, it’s worth watchdogging and criticizing partisan influence on the State Board of Elections.
  • Yes, it’s OK to question why the board waited until the vote certification meeting to drop this bombshell.
  • Yes, we should continue to press the State Board of Elections to make public whatever evidence it has.
  • Yes, it’s hypocritical that Democrats have historically dismissed allegations of voter and election fraud.

But it’s time to set that aside for a bit.

Deserved or not, the Republican Party has built a reputation for being more concerned with maintaining its own power than sticking to its principles.

Taking the lead on ferreting out this fraud would be a good step toward fixing that.

Cover image of Elizabethtown in Bladen County by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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