Attorneys for Harris, McCready trade legal arguments in 9th District dispute

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Election fraud investigation

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Lawyers for Democrat Dan McCready on Monday asked a state court to dismiss a request from Republican Mark Harris to certify his election in the 9th Congressional District, saying evidence “strongly suggests that Harris’ hand-picked agent conducted widespread fraudulent activity . . . for Harris’ benefit.”

In a brief filed in Wake County Superior Court, attorneys for McCready argued that Harris should wait for state elections officials to weigh the evidence and decide whether to order a new election.

Meanwhile, in urging the court to certify his election, Harris attorneys said state election officials “cherry-picked” his race from among others clouded by allegations of election fraud. And they said his apparent margin of victory — 905 votes — “exceeds the total number of votes in dispute.”

The filings are part of an effort by Harris to persuade a court to do what the board of elections wouldn’t: certify the election. The election has been clouded by allegations of fraud involving absentee ballots in Bladen County.

At the center of the controversy is McCrae Dowless, a Bladen elected official and political operative. He was hired by the Harris campaign at the candidate’s recommendation.

The State Board of Elections has been investigating the allegations and had set a Jan. 11 hearing date. But another court dissolved the board on Dec. 28 as part of a long-running dispute between the governor and legislators over its makeup. That delayed the hearing at least until a new board is appointed at the end of January.

In their brief, McCready’s attorneys noted that despite the dissolution of the board, its staff has continued the investigation. The probe already has turned up “significant evidence and serious allegations” of fraud. They urge the court to wait until a new elections board can hold a new hearing.

Harris’ attorneys asked the court to act, saying the elections board has “struck a blow to representative democracy” by leaving the congressional seat open as the new Congress took office earlier this month. Harris filed the suit on Jan. 3, the same day members of Congress were sworn in.

“Dr. Harris is left in limbo,” they wrote. “Worse yet, the residents of North Carolina’s Ninth District have no voice in Congress.”

In its own brief asking the court to deny Harris, the state board argues that Harris’ campaign has failed to meet the legal criteria for a judge to order certification. It says “a substantial source” of continuations was the Harris campaign’s “delayed production” of documents. The board further argues that executive director Kim Strach does not have the authority to certify an election.

The board argues that Harris “suffers no harm from delayed certification by the State Board of Elections given that the House of Representatives is not inclined to seat him.”

Democratic House leaders have said they don’t intend to seat Harris until the allegations are resolved.

In making the allegation of “cherry-picking,” the attorneys say if the 9th District race was tainted, so must other races in Bladen County have been.

“If any election truly were tainted . . . the State Board would have halted certification in every race in Bladen County, and perhaps in the entire Ninth District. But they did not,” the lawyers said. “The State Board’s position — that only the Ninth District race was tainted, while the other races in the same geographic area were not— defies reason.“

They said affidavits submitted to the board by McCready are “wholly insufficient to show any irregularity with absentee-by-mail ballots sufficient to affect the election’s outcome.”

No hearing date for the case has been set.

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Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.
Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.