While winners of 2018 House races were being sworn into a new Congress in Washington on Thursday, Republican Mark Harris met with staff from the North Carolina state board of elections in Raleigh.
Harris and two attorneys met with state board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach and Chief Investigator Joan Fleming for nearly two hours Thursday morning, the board said in a news release. Earlier in the day, Harris filed a motion with the Wake County Superior Court urging the court to compel the board to certify his election.
“It’s during this hour,” Harris said, “my 434 colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives will raise their hand and take the oath of office and be seated. I’m the one seat remaining of the 435 to be seated.”
During Thursday’s ceremonies at the U.S. House, North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was one of two districts not represented in the vote for speaker. Both were North Carolina districts: Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican, missed the session due to illness.
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Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, according to unofficial results, in the 9th district, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border. But the state board twice declined to certify his election, citing voting irregularities and possible absentee ballot fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties.
“We believe that, again, that I should be certified,” Harris told reporters outside the board’s offices on Salisbury Street after his meeting with investigators. “We don’t believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election.”
Said Harris: “We think there should be no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome.”
Harris’ attorneys argued in their court filing that the state board was required to certify the election because the counties in the 9th District have “determin[ed] that the votes were counted and tabulated correctly,” and because registered voters have filed no protests.
They disputed the elections board’s position that the board had legal authority to “take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.” The same law says the board “may initiate and consider complaints on its own motion.”
The certification decision now belongs to the court, Harris’ attorneys David Freedman and Dudley A. Witt argued, because there is no longer a sitting state elections board. They cited a 2017 case involving a Boone town council election as proof that a North Carolina judge has ordered an election to be certified before.
“Under the unique and narrow circumstances of a vacant State Board, the agency’s inability to resolve petitions and act on other statutorily mandated matters are effectively denials from which review by this Court may be sought,” Judge Paul C. Ridgeway wrote in the 2017 order. “The Court has inherent authority to supply necessary relief to parties whose legal rights are affected by a vacant State Board and to preserve the uniform and orderly operation of elections administration.”
In that case, a voter protested the election citing a lack of public notice of an early-voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University. Her protest was dismissed by the Watauga County Board of Elections. She intended to appeal to the state elections board, but was told to appeal to the Superior Court in Wake County because there was no sitting state elections board, according to the judge’s order.
Ridgeway ordered the state board’s executive director to tell the county board to certify the election. The county board’s decision is final in the absence of a seated state elections board, he wrote.
Briefs from all parties are due by Jan. 14 and no hearing date has been set, the court’s trial administrator said in an email Thursday evening.