The state elections board and prosecutors are focusing on a rural county in the 9th Congressional District, where unofficial results show the Republican with a narrow lead over the Democrat. Republican Mark Harris led by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready, who had already conceded. But the state elections board refused to certify the results last week because of allegations of "irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" involving mail-in ballots in the district.
The board is meeting later this month to hear evidence, but it's unclear whether the race will be settled then.
State investigators can order a new election if "irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness". The margin was cut by half the next week, but he declined to seek a recount.
"I didn't serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy", McCready said. McCready issued a forceful statement Thursday, calling on Harris to detail his knowledge of suspect activities on behalf of his campaign.
There are also claims that incomplete ballots were collected and then filled out later, Cohen said. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots. The candidate, who lost, paid for Dowless' get-out-the-vote efforts and received 98 percent of the absentee ballot vote in the controversial Bladen County.
A state election board spokesman confirmed Thursday that subpoenas seeking documents had been sent to the Harris campaign, the firm serving as Harris' chief strategist and the campaign committee of the sitting Bladen sheriff.
On Monday, the Charlotte Observer reported that Leslie McCrae Dowless ― a man who worked as an "independent contractor" for Harris' campaign in Bladen County ― was possibly connected to suspicious discrepancies in absentee ballot totals that could have affected the Harris-McCready election. Dowless has a felony criminal record.
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Allegations of fraud in November's general election have now put the outcome of the 9th Congressional District race in limbo. Harris said last week that his victory should be finalized while the board investigated.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform has yet to certify the election results officially.
"We are not ready to call for a new election yet", Woodhouse said.
"The board needs to have a public hearing and lay out what they have, and unless they meet the standard of a substantial likelihood, numerically, that the outcome of this race was changed or could have been changed, then they need to certify Mark Harris as the victor and prosecute the offenders", said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party. An election would take place well after the new session of Congress convenes January 3, likely creating a temporary vacancy. The state is investigating claims that a GOP operative may have manipulated ballots.
"If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved", said Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and incoming House majority leader.
If the allegations are accurate, "this is the biggest absentee fraud in a generation or two in North Carolina", said Gerry Cohen, an election law expert and former longtime legislative staff attorney.
Moments ago, CNN's Jim Sciutto reported that Dallas Woodhouse, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party since 2015, is now open to a new election in North Carolina's 9th Congressional district.