Harris campaign asks for speedy answer in 9th District, though none is in sight

An attorney for Republican Mark Harris Wednesday asked the chair of the state elections board whether new allegations of voting irregularities could change the results of the 9th District congressional race.

The letter from attorney Roger Knight came a day after the state board threw the race into limbo by unanimously voting not to certify results of the Nov. 6 election.

Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Though McCready conceded a day after the election, it’s unclear when — or even if — the board will certify the results..

“If it appears that the number of votes clearly involved does not represent a number sufficient to change the result . . . we request that you immediately notify me,” Knight wrote board Chair Andy Penry.

In an email to the Observer, Penry declined to comment.

The failure to certify the 9th District results — and uncertainty about when that might happen — comes at an awkward time. The new Congress is set to convene on Jan. 3. And the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is scheduled to disband in its current form on Monday.

“State board members are mindful that new members of Congress are expected to be sworn in in early January,” board spokesman Patrick Gannon said Wednesday.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, certification of the votes in North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts was expected to be routine. But when it came to the 9th District, Vice Chair Joshua Malcolm objected.

“I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” Malcolm, a Robeson County Democrat, told the board. “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 that has repeatedly been referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys for them to take action and clean it up. And in my opinion those things have not taken place.”

After discussing the matter in closed session, the board voted 9-0 not to certify the results.

“The decision was not a Democrat or Republican decision, it was a bipartisan decision,” Malcolm told the Observer on Wednesday.

Asked to elaborate on his allegations about “unfortunate activities,” Malcolm said “It would be inappropriate.”

“I’m going to carry out my statutory responsibilities to the best of my ability,” said Malcolm, the legal counsel at UNC Pembroke.

Gannon said only that the board “is investigating potential irregularities involving absentee ballots.” But Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, said he believes the issue stems from Bladen County, the district’s easternmost county.

After a contentious governor’s race in 2016, a protest was filed in Bladen County alleging that people may have improperly submitted hundreds of absentee ballots. The issue drew national attention when the NPR show “This American Life” traveled to Bladen County to investigate.

This month an investigator from the state elections board seized several absentee ballot request forms and return envelopes from Bladen County.

“What I’m hearing is that there’s some irregularities going on with the (absentee) ballots out in the field after we mail them out,” said Bobby Ludlum, who chairs Bladen’s election board. “I’ve heard rumors and allegations but as far as facts, I don’t have very many.”

In a related matter, the state attorney general said Wednesday the current 9-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement will change Monday as a result of a court order. The order, from past litigation over the board, means the board will revert back to five members and once again operate separately from Ethics Enforcement.