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N.C. elections board dissolves, adding new chaos in House race

“Democrats would object to any attempt by [Mark] Harris [above] to be seated on January 3,’’ incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“Democrats would object to any attempt by [Mark] Harris [above] to be seated on January 3,’’ incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement to The Washington Post.Chuck Burton/Associated Press/File 2018

Incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer said Friday that Democrats next week will not seat a North Carolina Republican amid allegations of election fraud in the state’s Ninth Congressional District.

‘‘Given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in NC-09, Democrats would object to any attempt by [Mark] Harris to be seated on January 3,’’ Hoyer said in a statement to The Washington Post. ‘‘In this instance, the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress.’’

The statement came after North Carolina dissolved its elections board Friday without certifying the results of the election, leaving the fate of the seat in doubt days ahead of the start of the new Congress.

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Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told CNN on Friday that the elections board ‘‘failed in their duty’’ to certify Harris and suggested that the state GOP may take legal action.

‘‘Mr. Harris got more legal votes,’’ Woodhouse said. ‘‘He should be certified and he should go to Congress.’’

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, countered by calling Republicans’ behavior ‘‘shocking’’ and accusing them of ‘‘trying to steal’’ a congressional seat.

‘‘This is purely obstruction of an ongoing investigation. . . . This investigation needs to continue,’’ Goodwin said.

The election board has been central to the probe into election fraud that has roiled North Carolina and drawn national attention for weeks.

The body’s decision not to certify the race in November — depriving Harris of a victory over Democrat Dan McCready even with a lead of 900 votes — signaled to political observers in the state that there was something potentially serious going on.

Reporters then disclosed affidavits that had been submitted to the board by voters who alleged various types of election-related impropriety. Some said that their absentee ballots had been collected by strangers, an illegal practice known as ‘‘ballot harvesting.’’

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Reporting continued to flesh out the beginnings of what appeared to be a potential fraud operation, where absentee ballots were distributed and then collected, connected to McCrae Dowless, a Republican operative who had been hired by Harris for a get-out-the-vote operation. Investigators were looking into whether Dowless or anyone working for him had discarded ballots.

Nonetheless, the state Republican Party began to battle the election board and the burgeoning investigation into potential fraud.

Woodhouse was part of a group of Republicans that successfully pressured the election board’s chairman, a Democrat, Andy Penry, to resign because of statements he’d made in the past on Twitter.

The party softened its tone about the board’s investigation after it was disclosed that state law enforcement authorities were pursuing potential criminal investigations into the case. State election officials have also been working with the FBI and the office of Robert Higdon, the US attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

It remains unclear whether there will be an interim board of elections to serve between now and Jan. 31, when a new board is expected to be seated. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Friday that he intends to appoint a temporary five-member board, but Republicans have decried the idea of an interim panel as ‘‘unconstitutional’’ and a ‘‘sham.’’

A hearing on the Ninth District race had been scheduled for Jan. 11, after which the panel could decide whether to certify the election, call a new election, or take some other course of action. The fate of that hearing is now in doubt as well.

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