Ballot battle taints election in N.C.
State GOP chief eyes a new vote in fraud probe
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.”