As members of the House of Representatives celebrated their swearings-in and the start of a new Congress, one district in North Carolina was left unrepresented, and Republican Mark Harris, the man who'd thought he'd be serving it, wasn't taking part in the pomp and photo ops.
Instead, Harris was home in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, asking a judge to certify the results of the unsettled election and meeting with investigators who are looking into potential election fraud in the race.
After the state's board of elections dissolved last week as part of an ongoing legal battle over its composition and the state was unable to seat a new board, Harris' legal team said it had no choice but to go to court.
"We kind of find ourselves in no man's land, and we have asked the court to step in," Harris told reporters after leaving the nearly two-hour interview with investigators.
Harris argued in his petition to the court that the board of elections is legally required to certify the election results.
"No registered voter in the 9th District has filed an election protest, and Mr. McCready has not asked for a recount," Harris' legal team wrote. "Therefore, the State Board has the 'clear duty to' authenticate and certify election results."
Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial tallies, but the state board had repeatedly refused to certify the results, instead spending more than a month investigating accusations that an operative, McCrae Dowless, working for a firm hired by Harris was involved in illegal absentee ballot collection schemes.
Harris committed to continuing to cooperate with the investigation but suggested he should be seated in Congress while the process plays out.
A date for the hearing could come next week, a court official said Thursday, but briefs in the case won't be due until January 14.
"We don't believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election," Harris said.
Jason Williams, campaign manager for Harris, told CNN, "Despite rumors and affidavits filed by Democrats, there is absolutely no evidence that any ballots were destroyed."
Williams also argued "there are simply not enough ballots in question to alter the results of the election," but because the investigation is still ongoing, it's too early to say how many ballots might have been affected by the alleged scheme. Investigators have said they are looking into why 1,680 absentee ballots were requested but not cast in Bladen and Robeson counties, an unusually high number.
Williams reiterated, as Harris has in recent interviews, that while he and Harris sought out the operative in question to conduct their absentee ballot operation in Bladen County, Dowless was insistent that he followed the letter of the law, and did not "harvest" or alter ballots, as has been suggested.
Dowless' attorney, Cynthia Adams Singletary, released a statement last month saying he "has not violated any State or Federal campaign laws and current ongoing investigations will prove the same."
"All speculation is premature and wholly unwarranted," she wrote.
McCready responded to Harris' comments in a series of tweets, accusing him of obstructing the investigation.
"The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. It's a right that countless Americans have fought and died for, here and overseas. But every step of the way, Harris treats our sacred right to vote as an inconvenience, just an obstacle between him and a seat of power," McCready wrote.
- As new Congress sworn in, election in North Carolina's 9th district is still under investigation
- North Carolina 9th District election dispute grinds through courts
- What's happening in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District
- North Carolina elections board dissolves before certifying November results of 9th district race
- North Carolina elections board dissolves
- North Carolina primary election results
- Will Republicans abandon their candidate in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District?
- North Carolina election probe exposes GOP hypocrisy
- North Carolina GOP open to new election
- Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb sworn into Congress