How the new NC elections board should resolve the 9th

Here’s a radical idea in deciding what to do about North Carolina’s disputed 9th Congressional District election: Go where all the evidence leads.

Gov. Roy Cooper will name a new election board by Thursday, and political observers are handicapping how the board’s three Democrats and two Republicans will approach the unresolved race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.

It is assumed, and maybe for good reason, that the Democrats on the board will seek to call a new election that could benefit McCready and Republicans will seek to certify Harris’s narrow victory.

But should it be that predictable? Shouldn’t elections board members of all stripes be able to take off their party blinders just long enough to hear the evidence that state investigators have been compiling for months, then base their decision on that?

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, seems to believe that some evidence matters while other evidence doesn’t. Woodhouse and party Chairman Robin Hayes are focused solely on “legal votes” and claim, almost certainly correctly, that Harris won more of them than McCready did.

That ignores a big part of the story: the untold number of other ballots that were tainted because of irregularities in the filling out and collection of them. We may never know exactly how many ballots should have been counted that weren’t, or how many ballots were counted that shouldn’t have been.

Woodhouse this week sent signals to Republican elections-board nominees that he expects them to hew to the party line and vote to certify Harris as the victor.

“Chairman Hayes and our team are confident that our nominees … will come to the only reasonable conclusion,” Woodhouse told Observer reporter Jim Morrill, “that is (the) race should be certified because Dr. Harris won more legal votes and we believe no evidence can possibly show otherwise.”

That hardly shows a hunger to hear what state investigators found after spending 12 weeks poring over documents and interviewing voters and election officials. It’s an effort to obfuscate the more complete picture. Harris may have won the most votes among those we know were legal, but how much did he benefit from deceitful actions orchestrated by political operative McCrae Dowless or others?

Democrats are political animals too, of course, and it’s possible their minds are made up before hearing the evidence as well. But maybe not: Charlotte lawyer Bob Cordle, one of four Democratic nominees to the board, said his vote, if he has one, and that of other Democrats, “depends on what the evidence shows.”

What an old-fashioned notion.

No one can deny that shadows hang over the election’s legitimacy. Some Republicans who want Harris seated seek to minimize the irregularities that happened in the 9th District even as they point to those same kinds of activity possibly happening in other districts and other years.

The question should be: To an unbiased observer, if you can find one, does the evidence show that Harris is the legitimate winner, or does it leave too many questions to be sure?