North Carolina's New State Board Of Elections Will Decide Fate Of Congressional Race
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Nearly three months after the midterm elections, North Carolina's 9th District still doesn't have representation in the U.S. House. That's because the state board of elections there declined to certify the race due to allegations of vote-by-mail fraud. Today Governor Roy Cooper appointed new members to that state board, and those five people will soon have to decide whether a whole new election is necessary. NPR's Miles Parks has more.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: On November 7, 2018, Dan McCready thought his run for Congress was over. McCready ran as a Democrat in North Carolina's 9th District. He trailed Republican Mark Harris by 905 votes, and he conceded the day after the election. That seems like a lifetime ago now.
DAN MCCREADY: Oh, boy, it's been such a whirlwind. The last couple of months feel like two years.
PARKS: McCready retracted his concession after the North Carolina State Board of Elections decided not to certify the race and instead began an investigation centered on a political operative hired by the Harris campaign named McCrae Dowless. Dowless had a reputation for helping vote-by-mail totals in the east part of the 9th District. Some voters have alleged that Dowless collected people's ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina. There have also been questions about whether all the ballots he allegedly collected were actually turned in. Here's McCready again.
MCCREADY: There was clearly a - you know, a culture of corruption that was built by my opponent. You know, exactly how much he knew and when he knew it I hope that we'll be able to uncover during the investigation.
PARKS: Harris was recently hospitalized and wasn't available for an interview. In the past, he said he talked to Dowless often and even had a, quote, "pastorally relationship with him." But he's repeatedly said he knew of no illegal activity. His campaign recently asked a state court to certify his election. A judge rejected that request last week. Harris and state Republicans argue that there aren't enough votes in question to overturn his 905-vote margin anyway. But during the hearing, an attorney for the state alluded to the possibility that investigators may have evidence that shows otherwise.
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UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: I don't know currently what's in that material. I think I can say with some confidence, however, that the material that is there certainly suggests that the number of disputed votes more than sufficiently calls this margin into question.
PARKS: The public will know a lot more about that evidence in the next few weeks. The newly appointed state board made up of three Democrats and two Republicans is expected to hold a public hearing to go over what investigators have uncovered.
GERRY COHEN: No one really knows what the evidence is being presented. Will it show a large amount of fraud, a little, none?
PARKS: That's Gerry Cohen, a former special counsel for the North Carolina General Assembly. He says whether the board calls for a new election or certifies Harris, the rules require a bipartisan vote.
COHEN: We have had our state board of elections called to elections where there has been substantial evidence of fraud. We've had three local elections redone in the last three years in North Carolina, for example.
PARKS: If the board is deadlocked, Cohen says the U.S. House of Representatives could deem the seat vacant. In that case, the governor can call a new election. McCready, the Democrat who thought his candidacy was over months ago, says he now fully expects a new election to be called.
MCCREADY: To me, I think, this is a fight that needs fighting. It rises above Republican or Democrat or even one election. I mean, this is about what it means to be an American.
PARKS: His campaign has begun staffing and fundraising accordingly. Since early December, he's raised over $500,000. Miles Parks, NPR News.
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