- North Carolina officials are delaying the certification of the results of the race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District while they investigate possible election fraud.
- In the November 6 election, Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by a margin of 905 votes after beating incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary.
- State election officials are investigating potential absentee-ballot fraud as a possible cause for irregularities in the results from two counties in the district.
The 2018 midterm elections were held almost a month ago, but the results of a closely contested North Carolina congressional race are in doubt after the state elections board delayed the certification of the results to review allegations of ballot tampering and election fraud.
In the November 6 election, Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes in the race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, after beating incumbent Congressman Robert Pittenger in the May primary.
But earlier this week, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform voted unanimously to delay the certification of the results due to the number of mail-in ballot irregularities reported in Bladen and Robeson counties in both the May primary and November general.
These include consistent patterns of unusually high rates of absentee ballots being requested by voters but not returned, a disproportionate share of total votes coming from mail-in and absentee ballots, and a disproportionate share of those absentee votes going to Mark Harris in both the primary and general.
“We encourage all allegations of voter fraud to be investigated and prosecuted, and perpetrators should go to prison,” the North Carolina Republican Party said in a statementThursday. “However, Democrats are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election.”
The investigation and move to delay the certification were not, however, spearheaded by Democrats. The Board of Elections is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and one unaffiliated member.
“Today’s news reports of the serious allegations in Bladen County are troubling,” the McCready campaign said Thursday. “I stand with voters all across the 9th district in wanting to make sure any wrongdoing is investigated and prosecuted regardless of the outcome of the election.”
In at least six affidavits obtained by WSOC-TV, some witnesses described overhearing Leslie McCrae Dowless, a local political operative working on behalf of Harris, saying he hired 80 people to do “absentee” for the Harris campaign and would receive a $US40,000 cash bonus if Harris won.
Voters in Bladen and Robeson counties who submitted other sworn affidavits said they received absentee ballots they did not request and were canvassed at their homes by operatives who told them to fill out only a few races on absentee ballots. The canvassers told voters they would fill out the rest of the ballot and send it in.
Bladen County not only had the highest rate of votes that came from absentee ballots at 22%, compared with up to 1.6% in any of the other counties in the district, but Harris won 96% of the absentee ballots from Bladen, compared with 62% of absentee ballots from the other 6 counties in the county.
Under North Carolina law, “ballot harvesting,” or filling out and submitting absentee ballots on behalf of others is illegal. Some analysts have also pointed to eyewitness accounts and disproportionately rates of requested but not returned absentee ballots as possible evidence that people working on behalf of Dowless and the Harris campaign went door-to-door to collect, and then destroy, the absentee ballots of people who voted for Pittinger and McReady.
On Friday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) decided in a 7 to 2 vote to hold an evidentiary hearing into the allegations before December 21 during a session closed to the public and reporters.
While the North Carolina Democratic Party applauded the board’s decision to conduct a hearing and delay certification, the North Carolina Republican Party and Harris campaign slammed the lack of transparency in the board’s Friday proceedings. On Saturday,the Democratic chairman of the NCSBE resigned, stating he did not want to be a “distraction” to the investigation after the NCGOP accused him of bringing partisan bias to the probe.
While the Harris campaign said in a Thursday statement that they are preparing for Harris to take office on Jan. 3rd, the fraud investigation and possible litigation over the election results could drag on for weeks, leaving control of the seat in limbo.
As WSOC-TV reporter Joe Bruno said on Thursday, the state elections board doesn’t need to determine that voter fraud influenced the outcome to order a new election. They only need to determine that “irregularities occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”
Gerry Cohen, a North Carolina elections expert who served as chief counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly, told INSIDER on Friday that if the Board ordered a new election, it would be rematch of just the general election contest between Harris and McCready.
The House Committee on Administration – which has the final say in the results of contested House races – could also vacate the results of the election and restart the entire process, which would include ordering new candidate filings, primaries, and a general election, Cohen added. Eventually, the full House of the Representatives could end up seating McCready instead of Harris.
Bladen County has been the subject of voting controversies in previous years, though complaints against absentee-ballot results in 2016 were dismissed. “I’m very familiar with the unfortunate activities that have happened in my part of the state,” NCSBE member Joshua Malcolm said Tuesday.
“And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, and which has been repeatedly referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys to clean up,” he added.
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