The still-unresolved race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was thrown into further turmoil Wednesday as state election officials delayed a hearing into election fraud allegations and GOP candidate Mark Harris said he would ask a court to certify him as the victor.
The State Board of Elections said that it was postponing a scheduled Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing on its ongoing investigation, citing a state court decision last week that disbanded the board.
But the board staff is continuing its probe of the 9th District election, the results of which the board declined to certify in November amid allegations that illegal tampering with absentee ballots may have tainted the outcome.
Harris, a Charlotte-area pastor, leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns. In a statement Wednesday evening, his campaign said it will go to Wake County Superior Court on Thursday to seek certification of those results “while still allowing for a full and thorough investigation of any concerns or irregularities.”
The campaign cited a lack of public evidence from state election officials that the irregularities were sufficient to change the election’s outcome as justification for a judge to act.
Harris, meanwhile, is set to meet with board investigators Thursday, election officials said — the same day the new Congress will be sworn in.
Harris’s campaign confirmed that he will not travel to Washington this week, where House Democrats had already vowed to block him from taking office.
“We are hopeful that we can get this resolved as soon as possible so the 9th District can be represented in Congress,” Harris campaign manager Jason Williams said in an email.
At the center of the controversy is a Bladen County political operative who worked for the Harris campaign and allegedly collected absentee ballots from voters in violation of state law. Harris has said he had no knowledge of any illegal activity.
Last week’s court decision on the state election board stemmed from a separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the panel’s makeup. A new board will be formed on Jan. 31 under legislation passed last month.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) initially announced plans to constitute an interim board in the meantime. The governor has the power to appoint all five of the board’s members, with three from a list provided by his party and two from the opposing party.
But Cooper backed away from that move Wednesday after state Republicans said they would not participate in naming new members — which would have left the panel as an all-Democratic board, giving the GOP an opening to dismiss its findings as partisan.
“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort,” Cooper said in the statement. “Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way.”
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement that the party’s unwillingness to support an interim board “results from a desire to ensure that any future investigation surrounding the Ninth Congressional District election is open, fair, and transparent, and not tainted by actions taken by an illegal board.”
Meanwhile, state board staff appeared to try to head off efforts to block the investigation from continuing, saying in a statement distributed Wednesday that all its subpoenas remain “legally effective” and that the probe will continue.
“State Board staff will continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads as part of this investigation,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, the board’s executive director. “This agency remains steadfast in its obligation to ensure confidence in the elections process.”