Elections

GOP ratchets up case to seat Mark Harris by questioning election fraud investigation

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Election fraud investigation

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North Carolina Republicans ratcheted up their drive to put Mark Harris in Congress on Tuesday, questioning “the entire legitimacy” of a state investigation into allegations of election fraud in the 9th Congressional District.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes accused elections officials of “one stalling pattern after another” in a meeting with reporters in Charlotte.

“When there (isn’t) evidence that irregularities would change the outcome of the election, Mark Harris should be certified,” Hayes said. “If they had discovered a shred of evidence, they would have made it public.”

State law, however, allows for the board to call for a new election if “Irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.” The McCready campaign, in a legal brief filed Monday in Wake County Superior Court, called that finding “an inevitable conclusion” to the case.

Democrats, too, have accused Harris and his campaign of delaying the investigation.

In a legal brief filed by the state board Monday, it argued that the Harris’ campaign’s “delayed production” of documents “is a substantial source of the prolonged investigation.”

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul C. Ridgeway has scheduled a hearing in Harris’ case for 10 a.m. Jan. 22. Harris has asked the court to certify the election results or order the state board’s staff to certify the results.

The district that runs from Charlotte to Bladen County has remained unrepresented since the new Congress took office on Jan. 3. The election, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial totals, has been clouded by the allegations of fraud, particularly in Bladen County.

The allegations of fraud involving mail-in absentee ballots surfaced after the nine-member bipartisan elections board voted unanimously Nov. 27 not to certify the results. Three days later, the board called for a hearing into what then-vice chairman Josh Malcolm called “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots . . . to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption.”

But the hearing, originally scheduled for Jan. 11, was delayed indefinitely after a three-judge panel dissolved the board on Dec. 28 as part of a separate legal dispute. Since then, the elections staff has continued its investigation.

A new board is scheduled to be named on Jan. 31.

Board spokesman Patrick Gannon said in the meantime, the staff “continues to conduct a thorough investigation into absentee voting irregularities in the 2018 election.”

“We look forward to presenting a full picture of the investigation to the public when a new State Board is seated,” he said.

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At Tuesday’s news conference, Hayes used a series of PowerPoint slides to paint a timeline of the controversy, cast doubt on affidavits submitted by the McCready campaign and call into question the motives of Malcolm, a Robeson County Democrat who had been the board’s chairman at the time it was dissolved.

Hayes argued that officials should have provided evidence that irregularities would have changed the election’s outcome. Asked why not wait two weeks until a new board is appointed, he said he has little faith in Malcolm, who could come back and head the board.

“There’s no reason to believe that he would not do what he’s already done, which is delay,” Hayes said.

It’s unclear who will be on the board, which will have three Democrats and two Republicans. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will make the appointments Jan. 31 from among those recommended by party chairs.

Hayes sought to portray Malcolm as having conflicts as a partisan Democrat whose wife once donated to Cooper and whose daughter worked for the state Democratic Party last year.

Malcolm told the Observer that no state law prevents his family from being politically involved.

“I do have an adult daughter who’s a strong-minded, intelligent American Indian female who walks her own walk and makes her own decisions,” he said.

Malcolm said he wouldn’t discuss the election or the “lingering issues related” to it. But he did note that the board twice declined to certify the 9th District election — once unanimously and once by a vote of 7-2 with two GOP board members joining Democrats.

In court filings, attorneys for Harris said state election officials “cherry-picked” the congressional race from among others clouded by allegations of election fraud. And they say Harris’ apparent margin of victory — 905 votes — “exceeds the total number of votes in dispute.”

Meanwhile lawyers for the state board argued that the investigation should continue.

“By law, the State Board of Elections is . . . obligated to conduct, and complete, a full investigation into the alleged fraud impacting the (9th District) election,” they wrote, adding that Harris’ demand that the election be certified before completion of that investigation “is supported by neither sound electoral principles nor (state law).”

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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.
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