Elections board may finish 9th District investigation in a few weeks, new chairman says

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The investigation into North Carolina’s alleged election fraud moved closer to a possible February resolution when Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday named a new state elections board to oversee the probe of the last undecided congressional race in the nation.

The chairman of the new State Board of Elections said a vote could come next month on whether to certify the election of Republican Mark Harris or order a new election in the 9th Congressional District.

The vote could come on the heels of a still-unscheduled February hearing into allegations, said Democrat Bob Cordle.

“I think we would do it at the end of the hearing,” Cordle, a Charlotte attorney, told The Charlotte Observer.

Cordle was elected board chairman in a five-minute teleconference. The new board is expected to formally meet for the first time next week.

The old elections board was dissolved by a court on Dec. 28 over a separate dispute involving its legal structure.

Cooper named Democrats Cordle, Stella Anderson of Boone and Jeff Carmon of Durham as well as Republicans David Black of Concord and Ken Raymond of Winston-Salem. Anderson and Cordle had served on previous election boards.

“North Carolinians deserve fair and honest elections, and I am confident this board will work to protect our electoral process,” Cooper said in a statement.

Bob Cordle

The board will oversee an ongoing investigation into alleged absentee ballot fraud in the 9th District. Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns.

Allegations of irregularities surfaced in November when then-board member Josh Malcolm expressed concerns over “unfortunate activities” in the eastern part of the district that runs from Charlotte to Bladen County. Those concerns led the bipartisan board to twice decline to certify Harris’ election.

Even without an elections board for the past five weeks, its staff has continued the investigation, gathering thousands of pages of affidavits and other documents.

“The appointments come at an important time for the state board, which is investigating absentee voting irregularities . . . and plans an evidentiary hearing on that matter in February to decide whether to certify a winner or order a new election,” board spokesman Patrick Gannon told The Charlotte Observer.

After the hearing the board could do one of three things: certify Harris as the winner, order a new election, or deadlock, throwing the election deeper into uncharted territory.

State law requires four votes to order a new election or three to certify Harris’ election. That means at least one Republican would have to join the three Democrats in calling a new election, or one Democrat would need to join the two Republicans to certify Harris.

That would delay resolution of a situation that already has left 733,000 North Carolinians without representation in Congress.

“It is not beyond imagination that by a 3-2 vote the board finds that there are sufficient grounds to order a new election, but cannot secure the fourth vote to actually order the election,” Bob Joyce, an election law expert at the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, wrote in a recent blog.

A deadlock would likely throw the matter to the Democratic-controlled U.S, House, which has final say on its members. At that point the House could declare the seat vacant or launch its own investigation.

While the 9th District is the highest-profile item on the board’s agenda, it’s not the only one.

The board also will have to implement North Carolina’s new voter ID law, approved by voters in a referendum last year. And it will have to name members to county elections boards and oversee the purchase of new voting equipment in the state’s 100 counties.

Cordle, 77, is a Davidson College graduate who got his law degree from New York University. He served as a military intelligence officer in Vietnam, coming under fire and once surviving a helicopter crash.

He has been an active supporter of Democratic candidates. He chaired chaired D.G. Martin’s 1998 U.S. Senate campaign and Martin’s earlier congressional campaigns.

He was a friend and golfing partner of former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black of Matthews. He was a member of the elections board in 2006 when it resolved a dispute involving Black’s contested reelection to the state House. Cordle recused himself at the time.

A year later Black was sentenced to more than five years in prison for illegally taking campaign cash from chiropractors.

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