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Legislature Overrides Cooper Veto, Clearing Way For New 9th District Primaries

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The GOP-controlled legislature voted Thursday to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a wide-ranging elections bill.

The Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a wide-ranging elections bill Thursday, which requires new party primaries if the state elections board calls for a new election in the 9th Congressional District.

The elections board will hold a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th district Jan. 11, and could then vote to hold a new election.

If there is a new election, there would be new party primaries. That means that Republican Mark Harris could face significant opposition to make it to a new general election that would be held sometime in 2019.

Harris narrowly defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger in the May primary, and Pittenger has not ruled out running again. It’s possible other Republicans could also jump in the race.

Dan McCready would have also to win a second Democratic primary, though McCready had easily defeated Christian Cano.

The elections board is investigating possible election fraud in the 9th district, where Harris is leading McCready by 905 votes.

The board has said that Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless is a “person of interest” in the case. Dowless ran an aggressive absentee mail ballot operation for Harris, in both the primary and general election. Investigators are focusing on whether Dowless illegally collected or “harvested” absentee mail ballots.

Cooper tried to rally opposition to the elections bill, which Republicans said gave the governor almost everything he wanted. The bill – now law – creates a new State Board of Elections, with all five members appointed by the governor.

But Cooper focused on a provision that would make campaign finance allegations secret, while they are first reviewed by the State Ethics Commission to determine if they are legitimate.

Cooper said that would “protect politicians who commit fraud.”

But Republican State Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy said that wasn’t a fair characterization, and she said allegations should first be vetted privately.

“Should it be made immediately public?” Stevens asked. “What we’ve said is that it needs to go on to the board of ethics before it becomes public.  People ought to have had the opportunity to offer their side.”

The House voted to override the veto 69-40. The Senate voted 28-12 to override.

Democratic Senator Dan Blue of Wake County praised most of the bill but said the initial secrecy with campaign finance allegations was a deal-breaker.

“Our government is intended to be transparent,” Blue said. “That’s what the voters want. That’s what was envisioned in our fundamental documents.”

That prompted a response from Sen. Dan Bishop, who will be Mecklenburg’s only Republican legislative member next month.

“Senator Blue, do you also believe all other criminal investigations should be public while on-going?” Bishop asked.

Blue said most of them are public. 

“Are you aware that the FBI – at least until James Comey came along – doesn’t comment publically on the substance of the investigations it’s undertaking?” he asked.

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.