Bal­lot bat­tle taints elec­tion in N.C.

State GOP chief eyes a new vote in fraud probe

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Blin­der

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. — The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the North Carolina Repub­li­can Party said Thurs­day that a new elec­tion may be ap­pro­pri­ate in the state’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, where al­le­ga­tions of fraud have cast doubts on the fair­ness and ac­cu­racy of the vote count.

If the state Board of Elec­tions and Ethics En­force­ment can state “there was a sub­stan­tial like­li­hood that the race could have been al­tered, then we would not op­pose a new elec­tion,” said the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Dal­las Wood­house.

The in­ten­si­fy­ing in­quiry into the race led Democrats and Repub­li­cans in Raleigh and Wash­ing­ton to weigh Thurs­day how best to nav­i­gate the le­gal and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges of the dis­puted vote, and their cal­cu­la­tions could well shift again be­fore the state elec­tions board holds an ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing on or be­fore Dec. 21.

State in­ves­ti­ga­tors have is­sued sub­poe­nas and be­gun sift­ing through thou­sands of pages of records to de­ter­mine whether ab­sen­tee-bal­lot fraud gave an ad­van­tage to Mark Har­ris, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in the 9th Dis­trict. Pre­lim­i­nary re­turns, which state of­fi­cials have

re­fused to cer­tify, showed Har­ris with a 905-vote lead over his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Dan McCready.

Late Thurs­day, McCready with­drew his con­ces­sion in the race.

But the va­lid­ity of Har­ris’ mar­gin has been called into ques­tion in re­cent days as wit­nesses have re­peat­edly de­scribed a voter­turnout op­er­a­tion that ap­peared to rely on at least one seem­ingly il­le­gal tac­tic: col­lect­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots di­rectly from vot­ers. The op­er­a­tion led to mount­ing con­cerns over whether bal­lots had been im­prop­erly marked for Har­ris or dis­carded if they were to be cast for McCready.

Un­der state law, the panel, which in­cludes four Democrats, four Repub­li­cans and one un­af­fil­i­ated mem­ber, may or­der a new elec­tion if it finds that “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties or im­pro­pri­eties oc­curred to such an ex­tent that they taint the re­sults of the en­tire elec­tion and cast doubt on its fair­ness.”

Democrats have warned that if the al­le­ga­tions about Har­ris’ cam­paign are not suf­fi­ciently re­solved, they would be re­luc­tant to al­low him to be seated in Jan­uary. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, Democrats’ nom­i­nee for House speaker, re­asserted Thurs­day that the House would have the fi­nal say on who was seated and whether to in­ves­ti­gate the elec­tion it­self.

“The House still re­tains the right to de­cide who is seated,” Pelosi said. “Any mem­ber-elect can ob­ject to the seat­ing of, the swear­ing in of an­other mem­ber-elect, and we’ll see how that goes,” Pelosi said.

If North Carolina of­fi­cials are not able to re­solve the al­le­ga­tions in an ac­cept­able way, she con­tin­ued, the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee has the au­thor­ity to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter it­self and ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine a win­ner. If it was un­able to, she added, the com­mit­tee could call for a new elec­tion. (The House has the con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity to be “the judge of the elec­tions, re­turns and qual­i­fi­ca­tions of its own mem­bers.”)

“We’re all in a close touch on that be­cause this is big­ger than that one seat, this is about un­der­min­ing the in­tegrity of our elec­tions,” Pelosi said. “And what was done there is so re­mark­able, that per­son — those en­ti­ties got away with that, even to the detri­ment of the Repub­li­cans in the pri­mary.”

Wood­house’s state­ments Thurs­day ap­peared to re­flect both the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties on Capi­tol Hill and the mount­ing wor­ries of North Carolina Repub­li­cans, who have spent years cru­sad­ing against fraud and now see one of their can­di­dates as a po­ten­tial ben­e­fi­ciary.

Un­til Thurs­day, Repub­li­cans had been pub­licly adamant that the state elec­tions board im­me­di­ately cer­tify Har­ris’ vic­tory. But Wood­house said that an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of me­dia re­ports had con­cerned him.

“We are as hor­ri­fied as any­body about the news re­ports we’ve seen,” Wood­house said. “We were hor­ri­fied at the prospect, just the al­le­ga­tion that any­body’s vote was in­ter­cepted and ma­nip­u­lated.”

A CNN seg­ment, he said, had led him to vomit Wed­nes­day night.

Wood­house was care­ful to say Thurs­day that the party was not aban­don­ing Har­ris’ can­di­dacy, and he ex­pressed con­fi­dence in Har­ris’ char­ac­ter. And other Repub­li­can of­fi­cials ar­gued that Wood­house, who re­peat­edly said in an in­ter­view that he was open to a new elec­tion if fraud may have tainted the out­come, did not sup­port a new round of vot­ing.

“We are not say­ing that,” said Robin Hayes, chair­man of the state party, who blamed the me­dia for mis­re­port­ing Wood­house’s re­marks. “We are say­ing that we want the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be com­pleted.”

Hayes, a for­mer con­gress­man, added, “At this point in the process, based on what we know, we think that Mark Har­ris has fairly and le­git­i­mately won the race,” but that “if the facts and the num­bers sup­port call­ing for an­other elec­tion, then we would sup­port it.”

Har­ris

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