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North Carolina 9th District election dispute grinds through courts

A Superior Court judge in North Carolina has set a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Republican candidate Mark H...

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 9:43 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 9:43 PM

A Superior Court judge in North Carolina has set a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Republican candidate Mark Harris asking the court to force the State Board of Elections to certify the results of the state's 9th Congressional District election -- before the board completes its investigation into potential fraud in the race.

The hearing is set for January 22.

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There is still no clear resolution to the controversy over the results in North Carolina's 9th District more than two months after Election Day.

Harris leads the race by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready, but there are serious questions surrounding an absentee ballot operation led by a political consultant he hired.

RELATED: As new Congress sworn in, election in North Carolina's 9th district is still under investigation

In court filings Monday, Harris' campaign argued that the board has had more than ample opportunity to conduct its investigation and release its findings. The campaign claims the delay has led to a disenfranchisement of some 700,000 constituents in the 9th District, who are currently without a representative.

The board had been set to hold an evidentiary hearing January 11 to go over the evidence collected in the case, but in a surprise ruling at the end of December a court ordered the board to dissolve as part of a legal battle over its composition. A prior decision had ruled the board unconstitutional, but the same court gave the board a temporary reprieve till December 28 to complete the investigation. The board's inability to reach a conclusion before it dissolved gave Harris and other North Carolina Republicans an opening to claim he should be seated.

"There have been 50 days that have elapsed since this flawed process began. No evidence sufficient to overturn the election has been produced," said Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, at a press event on Tuesday.

In their own court filings Monday, the McCready campaign and the State Board of Elections disagreed.

The board, which is now operating with only professional staff, argues that it is obligated to withhold certifying a winner until its investigation is complete. Its lawyers argue that North Carolina law sets no time limit on such an investigation. The board cannot certify a winner without appointed officers in place, but lawyers for Harris argue that the court has the authority to empower the board's executive director to do so.

The Democrats, meanwhile, countered that Harris himself is partly responsible for the delay. They point to a letter sent by the board's former chairman Joshua Malcolm to the Harris campaign, in which Malcolm complained that Harris refused to turn over more than 140,000 documents that could be connected to the investigation. And while Republicans continue to argue there is not enough evidence of fraud, Democrats believe there is plenty, most of it centering on Leslie McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative tasked with running the Harris absentee ballot operation.

"Harris continues to tell reporters that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, ... Dowless is innocent and asks this court -- with the support of the North Carolina Republican Party -- to rubber stamp the results of the election with which Dowless and his associates are alleged to have interfered on Harris's behalf," Democratic lawyers wrote in their brief.

Dowless, the central figure in this drama, has yet to speak to authorities and refuses to cooperate with the State Board of Elections. His work on behalf of candidates in North Carolina has gotten even more scrutiny since it was revealed that the board had referred his conduct in the 2016 campaign to the US Justice Department. The Justice Department took no action, however, and Dowless was not prevented from participating in the 2018 election.

Harris has said he hired Dowless based on the operative's performance turning out a remarkable number of absentee votes for a third-party candidate during Harris' failed attempt to run for Congress in 2016.

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.

The Superior Court judge tasked with ruling in the case has not given a timeline for deciding. While the judge deliberates whether to require the board to certify the results without completing its investigation, the next big date on the calendar is January 31. That is when Gov. Roy Cooper will have the opportunity to appoint new members of the Board of Elections, and the board then will have the constitutional authority once again to certify the results or call for a new election.

The question is whether the judge could hand down a decision before the new board takes shape and whether that could lead to more court battles down the road. Regardless, a resolution does not appear imminent and it will likely be some time before anyone is seated as a member of Congress from North Carolina's 9th District.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
Pearl River8737209
Lafayette8078136
Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
Neshoba6404201
Monroe6372158
Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
Bolivar6016143
Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
Alcorn520888
George457868
Scott451993
Leflore4401140
Prentiss437276
Itawamba436198
Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
Copiah425586
Wayne424863
Tate4234100
Adams4219114
Yazoo415886
Sunflower4088104
Covington407391
Marion4032100
Leake393185
Coahoma388198
Newton364474
Grenada3517101
Stone345657
Tishomingo324888
Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
Claiborne125634
Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 764839

Reported Deaths: 13048
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1089971721
Mobile698041173
Madison48181574
Baldwin35619445
Shelby35053289
Tuscaloosa32903508
Montgomery32475655
Lee21787203
Calhoun19941374
Morgan19234315
Etowah18509422
Marshall17217258
Houston16028347
St. Clair14866275
Limestone14059179
Elmore13943241
Cullman13942234
Lauderdale13030266
Talladega12307211
DeKalb11829226
Walker10171306
Autauga9439124
Blount9357149
Jackson9055136
Coffee8625157
Colbert8287164
Dale8241151
Escambia6436103
Tallapoosa6353166
Covington6291154
Chilton6215129
Russell590154
Franklin561294
Chambers5211130
Dallas4610176
Marion4579114
Clarke449471
Pike448289
Geneva4223102
Winston404685
Lawrence4040101
Bibb394776
Barbour337067
Marengo319979
Monroe310346
Butler308483
Pickens298369
Randolph291655
Henry291455
Hale285281
Cherokee278249
Fayette270671
Washington242645
Crenshaw231664
Clay220761
Macon213254
Cleburne208746
Lamar186339
Conecuh176538
Lowndes168756
Coosa162531
Wilcox153934
Bullock146842
Perry134035
Sumter122935
Greene118541
Choctaw72225
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