Amid allegations of fraud, North Carolina officials again refuse to certify close House race
With the election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District marred by allegations of fraud, the state’s Board of Elections once again voted not to certify results from the race on Friday, instead deciding to hold another hearing by Dec. 21. The vote in favor of a further delay was 7-2, with two Republicans joining the board’s four Democrats and one independent member.
Currently, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, a margin of just 0.3 percent. The board has been extremely vague about the issues that are preventing certification, but the state Democratic Party has submitted affidavits to the board from voters in Bladen County alleging that “serious irregularities and improprieties may have occurred” with regard to absentee ballots.
In addition to specific charges of wrongdoing, such as a voter who said that a woman collected her ballot even though she hadn’t signed or sealed its envelope, analysts like Michael Bitzer have observed that Bladen County and neighboring Robeson County had unusually high levels of unreturned absentee ballots. Elizabeth Sbrocco also notes that the number of simple requests for absentee ballots was extremely high in Bladen, prompting her to theorize that the people behind this operation were not “just picking up ballots from people who genuinely requested [them]. They’re fraudulently doing the requests and then following up.”
Bitzer further points out that Harris won 61 percent of absentee ballots in Bladen, the only county of the eight that make up the 9th District where he outpaced McCready, who overall won 62 percent of absentees district-wide. What makes the Bladen results particularly bizarre is that only 19 percent of absentee ballots received by the county came from registered Republicans, while 39 percent were from independents and 42 percent from Democrats. Therefore, for Harris to win 62 percent of absentees there, he’d need every single Republican and every last independent plus a few Democrats to vote for him—a pattern not seen anywhere else in the district.
What happens next is hard to say. The board could ultimately order a new election, though that would be sure to prompt legal action as the state Republican Party had already threatened to sue if the board failed to certify the results on Friday. In particular, the GOP argues that there aren’t enough absentees to affect the outcome, since 678 were accepted in Bladen County that included votes in the congressional race—fewer than Harris’ 905-vote margin. But there were also 680 accepted absentees with House votes in Robeson County, which may be just as tainted.
There’s a further crazy wrinkle here as well, which is that North Carolina’s Board of Elections was slated to wink out of existence at 11:59 PM ET on Monday until a court delayed that event until noon on Dec. 12. That’s because that same state court ruled in October that the current board, which came into being because of laws Republicans have repeatedly passed to try to strip power from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, violates the state constitution.
Democrats argue that, once the court’s deadline passes, the board should revert to the form it took in 2016, before the GOP started mucking with it, a prospect Republicans steadfastly oppose. The current board won’t hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the 9th District until Dec. 21, so it may be awhile before we have further clarity on this unfolding saga.