North Carolina Court Rebukes State Board of Elections for Handling of Congressional Race Investigation

In this May 21, 2018, photo, a roll of stickers awaiting distribution to early voters sits on a table at the check-in station at the Pulaski County Courthouse Annex in Little Rock, Ark. Voters in four states are casting ballots Tuesday as the 2018 midterm elections take shape. Primaries are …
AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel

A special panel of three North Carolina Superior Court judges rebuked the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (NCSBE) on Thursday for its handling of the investigation into alleged election irregularities in the Ninth Congressional District Race.

The effect of the court’s ruling and subsequent events on Friday leaves the outcome of the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready the same as it was before the court threw this huge political curveball: a winner has not been certified in the race, an investigation into alleged election irregularities is ongoing, and the U.S. House of Representatives will not be seating a representative from the district when the 116th Session of Congress convenes in Washington on January 3.

The court pulled no punches in its assessment of the NCSBE’s conduct, as WBTV reported:

In issuing its ruling, the panel made reference to the fact that the NCSBE scheduled its hearing into the 9th Congressional District on January 11, 2019, instead of by its original self-imposed deadline of December 21, 2018.

“The parties have not given even a cursory explanation as to why the hearing was continued from December 28, 2018 until January 11, 2019, let alone one demonstrating compelling reasons and substantial and reasonable justification, for not only the additional time needed, but the total disregard of the previous Order of the Court in extending the stay,” the order reads.

In concluding its ruling, the order said the court does not take its job lightly.

“The fact remains that a critical election hangs in the balance, and the voters of the Ninth Congressional District are entitled to have their elected representative in place by the time Congress convenes, or to know why they will not have their representative in place, and further to know with certainty what action is being taken to ensure they are properly represented in the important matters before congress,” the order continued.

In its Thursday ruling, the court also refused to extend the court order continuing the life of the board beyond noon on Friday.

As a consequence, the board was dissolved, and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was charged with forming a new five-member North Carolina State Board of Elections to deal with the allegations in the 9th Congressional District.

Also on Thursday, “The North Carolina general assembly passed a new elections law despite Governor Roy Cooper’s objections about transparency and campaign finance violations,” as WBTV reported, continuing:

The House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto as the current elections board investigates absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District race. The law requires a new primary in the 9th Congressional District race if the North Carolina State Elections Board decides to a new general election is necessary.

Breitbart News reported on the circumstances leading up to Thursday’s court ruling:

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.

“Even if [Gov. Cooper] appointed a new board on Friday, the bill ratified into law by the NC General Assembly on Thursday says that board doesn’t take effect until January 31, 2019,” WBTV pointed out on Friday.

Friday morning, Harris sent a letter to the about-to-be dissolved NCSBE demanding that it certify his election. Though the doomed agency officially acknowledged receipt of Harris’s letter, it took no action prior to its dissolution at noon on Friday.

On Friday, incoming House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “If Mr. Harris is not certified as the duly, fairly, legally elected member, we would certainly oppose his seating. And as I understand it, that verification has not come.”

“[I]t is clear, apparently, from all sides that there was fraud committed by certain participants in the administration of the election. Under those circumstances, we ought to have a new election for the general election, not the primary,” Hoyer added.

Late that day, David Freedman, Mark Harris’s attorney, released this statement on the status of the 9th Congressional District race:

On December 27, 2018 the North Carolina Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which was declared unconstitutional on October 16, 2018, was ordered dissolved as of Noon on December 28, 2018. Three Superior Court Judges, in their ruling, found the State Chairman of the Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement acted in complete disregard for an Order of the Court, by publishing a hearing schedule which disregarded the time table established by the Court. In addition, the Court found the Election Board failed to comply with the previous Orders of the Court. The Court emphasized the importance to the voters of the Ninth Congressional District to have their elected representative in place by the time Congress convenes and to have finality to the 2018 election process.

The documents released by the State Board of Elections on December 19, 2018, revealed that the State Board of Elections had conducted a detailed investigation into irregularities that allegedly occurred in Bladen County in the 2016 election. In fact, the Board referred their investigation to the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina. As of this date, it is our understanding there has been no action taken against the individuals involved in the alleged irregularities as a result of this investigation. The information uncovered by this investigation was not made public prior to the election of November 2018. The question that comes to mind is: Why was this information not made public earlier to assure that these irregularities were not repeated, assuming the allegations were true?

Dr. Harris and his Campaign Committee have cooperated fully with the investigation. Their cooperation has been extremely time intensive especially considering the expedited compliance schedules that have been set up by the State Board during the Holiday Season. The Board issued a subpoena to the Harris Campaign on December 1, requesting voluminous amount of documents and demanding a response in less time than the Committee could reasonably collect, review, and deliver the documents. There are approximately 135,000 documents that have required review and the Campaign has been acting in good faith and will continue to do so. Dr. Harris has cooperated and intends to continue cooperating with the investigation during the scope and course of this investigation. He looks forward to this matter coming to a resolution as quickly as possible, so that he may serve the people of the Ninth Congressional District as he was elected to do.

As of Friday evening, Gov. Cooper had not named any of the five members of the newly formed North Carolina State Board of Elections, which will take over the election regulation portion of the NCSBE duties.

Sources in North Carolina told Breitbart News that the staff of the former NCSBE, now functioning as the staff of the newly formed North Carolina State Board of Elections, will continue with the January 11 evidentiary hearing on election irregularities in the 9th Congressional District election.

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