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NC Elections Board Declines To Certify 9th District Race After Member Cites 'Unfortunate Activities'

Mark Harris For Congress / Dan McCready For Congress
The North Carolina Board of Elections declined to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District Race between Republican Mark Harris (left) and Democrat Dan McCready.

Updated: 8:15 p.m.

The 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready is not over. The State Board of Elections Tuesday declined to certify the results of the race, even though all counties have certified their votes and Harris is ahead by 905 votes.

The vice chair of the board, Joshua Malcolm, said he would no longer “turn a blind eye” to what he called “unfortunate activities.” Malcolm, a Democrat, dropped a bombshell.

“I’m very familiar with the unfortunate activities that have happened in my part of the state," Malcolm said during the meeting. "And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, and which has been repeatedly referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys to clean up. Those things have not taken place.”

Malcolm did not elaborate after making that statement. The board went into session and then declined to certify the results. It cited a state statute that allows the board to “take any action to ensure that an election is determined “without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities.”

Malcolm is from Robeson County, which is in the 9th District. He was appointed by former Republican Governor Patrick McCrory in 2013 and re-appointed to the board by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

He did not give specifics about what might have happened. In a follow-up interview with WFAE Tuesday evening, Malcolm said the board members are not allowed to discuss what’s said in closed session.

"The board has the authority and has the duty to ensure that when it certifies an election that what's being certified represents the will of the people," Malcolm told WFAE.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, said the allegations appear to be about Bladen County, one of two counties won by Harris. Woodhouse did not say why he believes Bladen County is the focus but added: "If someone is going to steal votes out of Bladen County, they have to steal well more than 1,000. Because you don't know what the margin is going to be... I mean that's crazy."

He said the board should have certified the results because McCready never contested the race and Bladen County has certified all of its results. 

The Bladen County Elections Board voted 3-1 earlier this month to certify the results. Board member Al Daniels was the one no vote, but he declined to say why he voted no. 

Bobby Ludlum, the chair of the board, said Tuesday night that there were four attorneys from the McCready campaign when the board reviewed provisional and absentee-by-mail ballots.

He said to his knowledge they “didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.” He also said he has "no idea" what the problem could be.

Harris won Bladen County by 1,557 votes. Overall, Harris is ahead by 905 votes.

McCready conceded the race the day after the Nov. 6 election, and Harris is already making plans to be sworn in in January.

Two years ago, in the close race between Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and then-incumbent Pat McCrory, a protest was filed in Bladen County about absentee ballots, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.

In that case, the allegation was that Democrats attempted to benefit from improper absentee ballots. The allegation was dismissed.

The statute cited by the board does not include a deadline to certify the 9th District race. In a statement, the board said that it is "mindful" that new members of Congress are expected to be sworn in on January 3, 2019.

Tuesday was also the last day the state elections board would meet, with the possibility of its demise coming in January. A panel of judges ruled that the board was unconstitutional in October, but allowed it to run elections in November anyway.

In the midterm election, an amendment to the state’s constitution — which would have given the legislature power to appoint members of the board — failed. The General Assembly, which also reconvened Tuesday, could try to pass legislation to alter the board — to keep it.

Last week, in an interview with WFAE, Republican Rep. David Lewis discussed how the General Assembly could preserve the board of ethics and elections. Lewis is the chairman of the elections and ethics law committee and said he’s sought Governor Cooper’s opinion on the issue.

“We are looking at the older model that we replaced,” Lewis said. “We are looking at — since the courts have said that the governor has to have executive control or it has to be in the executive branch — we’re looking at just creating a department or an agency. Maybe we don’t need a board.”

In Tuesday’s meeting, members appointed some county board of electors and completed the canvass of votes — with the exception of District 9. That’s the normal process to affirm the results of the November election in each county.

The board also unanimously agreed to a settlement with Ralph Hise, the Republican senator who was alleged to have received $10,000 more than he loaned his campaign for personal use. The settlement imposes a $500 fine and passes the cost of the investigation, $4,000, to Hise.

Tuesday the last time the board meets in person. They’ll reconvene by telephone Friday.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Cole del Charco is a journalist, writer and radio producer from Hickory, North Carolina.