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: 320174

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22294271
Hinds20755424
Harrison18450317
Rankin13923282
Jackson13733249
Madison10273225
Lee10063176
Jones8473167
Forrest7837153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6523150
Lamar636288
Lafayette6314121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4841133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4606148
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425973
Monroe4162136
Union415877
Neshoba4065180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3373111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314571
Adams308486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292268
Prentiss284261
Leake272374
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
Tishomingo232369
Winston230282
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210659
Holmes190574
Stone188733
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135447
Greene131834
Lawrence131224
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108334
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549013

Reported Deaths: 11311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810461571
Mobile42145831
Madison35718525
Tuscaloosa26179458
Shelby25626254
Montgomery25089614
Baldwin21901314
Lee16287176
Calhoun14724327
Morgan14639285
Etowah14183364
Marshall12454230
Houston10791287
Elmore10301214
Limestone10188157
St. Clair10161251
Cullman9958201
Lauderdale9612250
DeKalb8977190
Talladega8462184
Walker7341280
Autauga7242113
Jackson6953113
Blount6950139
Colbert6415140
Coffee5638127
Dale4930116
Russell454941
Chilton4478116
Franklin431782
Covington4279122
Tallapoosa4144155
Escambia401880
Chambers3728124
Dallas3610158
Clarke353161
Marion3245107
Pike314578
Lawrence3134100
Winston283572
Bibb268564
Geneva258481
Marengo250665
Pickens237062
Barbour234559
Hale227178
Butler224671
Fayette218962
Henry194443
Randolph187644
Cherokee187345
Monroe180641
Washington170739
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156357
Cleburne153644
Lamar146937
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124542
Conecuh113630
Coosa111629
Perry108626
Sumter105832
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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