MONROE — Voters in Union County have a right to question the legitimacy of elections considering there was ballot tampering proven in their district during the 2018 Election.

Republican Mark Harris, a candidate for the District-9 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, won the 2018 Election against Dan McCready. But a bipartisan investigation found “irregularities” in hundreds of mail-in ballots, most of which originated in Bladen County. The investigation found that Leslie Dowless, who was hired by Harris, reportedly led an illegal operation that involved filling out more than 1,000 fraudulent mail-in ballots. Harris defeated McCready by about 900 votes before being overturned.

Dowless and 10 others were arrested after a state board evidentiary hearing “revealed Dowless directed his workers to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them, and fill in the votes for local candidates,” according to the Bladen Journal. Dowless is now facing federal charges in the case, reports the Bladen Journal, while Harris has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Lisa Britt, who is the stepdaughter of Dowless, testified under oath that she was directed by Dowless to collect and fill in ballots.

In July of 2019, Dowless was charged with two counts of felony obstruction of justice, perjury, solicitation to commit perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice and illegal possession of absentee ballots, according to a statement released by District Attorney Lorrin Freeman of Wake County.

Union County paid a price for this fraudulent attempt to sway the results of the election, along with the other residents of the Ninth District, because a special election was required before Dan Bishop was voted into the seat on Sept. 10, 2019.

The penalty for Union County was an absence of representation in the U.S. House of Representatives for a stretch of more than eight months — from January of 2019 until September. Those eight months are one-third of the 24-month term for a House representative.

In a study by The Heritage Foundation regarding the history of election integrity in the United States and reported on the different forms of fraud that has taken place, including: impersonation at the poll, false registration, duplicate voting, forging absentee ballots, buying votes (by paying voters), voter intimidation, ineligible voting (through illegal registration), altering the vote count, and ballot petition fraud (forging signatures).

The study points out a finding by the National Commission of Federal Election Reform, which states “the problem is not the magnitude of voter fraud. In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference.”

The Heritage Foundation’s study came to the determination that all states should adopt the policy of “requiring government-issued identification and proof of citizenship to vote,” and also recommends all states should institute “interstate voter registration crosscheck programs to identify voters registered in multiple states.”