The membership of the state board investigating allegations of election irregularities in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District race could be dramatically altered if the state legislature overrides a gubernatorial veto of an election reform bill it passed this month.
On November 30, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (NCSBE) refused to certify the results of the November 6 election in which Republican Mark Harris won the race to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District by 905 votes over Democrat challenger Dan McCready. Though the election boards in all eight counties that comprise the district certified the win, only the state board has the legal authority to certify the election so that the U.S. House of Representatives will seat the winner.
The initial allegations of election irregularities focused on the absentee ballot collection conduct of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a former Democrat hired by the general consultant to the Harris campaign to undertake get-out-the-vote activities in Bladen County.
The state board initially scheduled an evidentiary hearing on December 21 to consider the allegations. That hearing has been rescheduled for January 11.
The 116th Session of Congress, meanwhile, will convene in Washington, DC, on January 3, and the 9th Congressional District will have no official representative to be seated in the U.S. House of Representatives until the battle over the winner of the November 6 election is resolved and a winner is certified by the state entity with the legal authority to do so.
The Hill reported on Wednesday:
The North Carolina General Assembly last week passed legislation mandating that any redo of a race must involve new primaries.
The legislation would also overhaul the current makeup of the NCSBE, which has been ruled unconstitutional but is operating under a court order that allows it to remain in its current form until Dec. 28.
The board has come under repeated scrutiny from state Republicans questioning the impartiality of the probe.
But Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has vetoed the bill over concerns about a campaign finance provision in the bill, even as he has said he remains broadly supportive of the rest of the legislation.
Under the bill, HB 1029, the nine-member NCSBE would be broken down into two separate boards, a five-member board of elections, which would have the legal authority over the ongoing investigation into the 9th Congressional District election, and a separate ethics board, which would deal with other matters.
The current NCSBE was established in a 2016 law in which the North Carolina General Assembly overrode a vote by Gov. Cooper. Cooper has subsequently challenged the law in the Democrat-friendly North Carolina state courts. That challenge has resulted in the court order that keeps the current board operational until this Friday, December 28.
In the event the Republican-controlled General Assembly overrides Gov. Cooper’s veto prior to the expiration of the current court order on Friday, the governor would be required to appoint the five new board members of the reconstructed state board of elections, three of whom could come from the same party.
Sources in North Carolina familiar with the battle surrounding the 9th Congressional District results told Breitbart News that the governor would likely make those appointments prior to the scheduled January 11 evidentiary hearing, with the newly structured state board of elections taking over for the NCSBE.
In the event the General Assembly does not override Gov. Cooper’s veto of the bill, sources informed Breitbart News, the state court would likely issue another order extending the life of the NCSBE beyond December 28.
The requirement in HB 1029 that any new election ordered by the NCSBE or its successor would be preceded by a new primary appears to be the real reason Cooper, a Democrat, has vetoed the bill.
Sources in North Carolina told Breitbart News that many GOP political insiders believe Harris would be the weakest candidate in a “do-over” general election, while a more moderate candidate, such as incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC-09) could win both the primary and the general election in such a “do-over” election.
Harris narrowly defeated Pittenger in the May 2018 Republican primary.
Adding to the drama surrounding the outcome of this controversial election is the possibility that the new Democrat majority in the House of Representatives could choose to ignore the proceedings of the NCSBE or its successor and decide to determine whether Republican Harris or Democrat McCready should be seated under the authority of its own investigation into the facts of the election when the new session of Congress convenes on January 3.
One thing is certain: the chaos surrounding the outcome of the election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is unlikely to be resolved for some time.