The North Carolina State Board of Elections staff said Wednesday it will continue its investigation into allegations of ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District despite last week's court ruling dissolving the board. But the staff said it will postpone the previously planned Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing into the allegations until it has a new board.
The staff said only seated members can "hold hearings, certify elections, order new elections or hear election protests."
Elections board staff will "continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads as part of this investigation," according to the board's executive director Kim Westbrook Strach.
"This agency remains steadfast in its obligation to ensure confidence in the elections process," Stach said.
Gov. Roy Cooper called out Republican members of the General Assembly Wednesday afternoon for not putting forward nominees to the board, which he had been trying to reassemble before the Jan. 11 hearing.
Cooper called on the chairs of both parties to produce a list of nominees last week. The Democratic Party has put forward their nominees, Cooper said, but the Republican Party has not. According to Cooper, the Republican Party has “refused to provide any names and has discouraged Republicans from accepting any appointment to the Board.”
The governor said the Republicans’ refusal to put forward nominees “obstructs” the ongoing investigation into allegations of ballot fraud in the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris leads McCready by 905 votes in unofficial results.
“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort,” Cooper said. “Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way.”
Republicans see the matter differently. State Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said the party wants the board to be lawful.
"Our unwillingness to participate in the creation of an unlawful 'interim' State Board of Elections results from a desire to ensure that any future investigation surrounding the Ninth Congressional District election is open, fair, and transparent, and not tainted by actions taken by an illegal board," Hayes said.
The former elections board, which had been conducting the investigation, was dissolved last month by a law passed by the General Assembly and returns the board to its previous five-member state. Cooper had vetoed the bill with the elections board changes before he was overridden by the Republican-led legislature.
The makeup of the board had been changed in 2016 by Republicans in the legislature after Cooper, a Democrat, became governor. Numerous court challenges found that board to be unconstitutional, but it had been allowed to stay in place through the November election. On Friday, a North Carolina court again ruled the board unconstitutional and said it had to be disbanded.
Harris had urged the state board to certify his victory over McCready. Meanwhile, McCready has started raising money for a potential new election. If a new election is held, state law mandates that a new primary must be held also.
New Congressional members are supposed to be sworn into office Jan. 3. Steny Hoyer, a top Democrat in the U.S. House, said Democratic representatives “would object” to Harris being seated “given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in the 9th district.”