The Rev. Mark Harris, yet to be certified with victory in the 9th District, has taken a page from the playbook of his governor.
He’s filed a lawsuit.
Harris’ lawyers filed in Wake County last week, requesting he be declared the winner over Democrat Dan McCready because the state Board of Elections didn’t act. That board’s membership, as it was comprised during the election, is no longer in existence.
A new board begins Jan. 31.
Harris, a Republican and formerly the preacher of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, was 905 votes ahead of McCready after Election Day. But since then, Bladen County has been the central point for an investigation into fraudulent activities associated with absentee ballots. McCrae Dowless, a Bladenboro resident, is the key figure, a two-time convicted felon with a history of being hired by campaigns for the county sheriff and county commissioners in addition to Harris and others.
Over the years, he’s worked for campaigns of Democrats and Republicans. The state Board of Elections sought criminal charges against him between the 2016 and 2018 election cycles but federal attorneys in 2017 and state attorneys in 2018 did not act on Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach’s requests.
State judges said in October the makeup of the state Board of Elections was unconstitutional. They ruled to keep it in place through the election, made two extensions as an evidentiary hearing about the 9th District neared, and then dissolved it Dec. 28.
The 9th Congressional District has been without representation in the U.S. House since it was sworn in last week. Bladen County is split between the 9th and 7th districts, the latter being the more southern half; Republican David Rouzer, of Four Oaks, is the representative for the 7th District.
The House is the final arbiter of who is seated, and has said it is aware and awaiting results of the investigation into election fraud in the district.
The accusations of election fraud also involve Robeson County.
Cooper, one of if not the most litigious governor ever only two years into his term, sued when the legislature changed appointment power for the state Board of Elections. The courts sided with him.
The legislature has since approved a new law authorizing what will be a board of three Democrats and two Republicans at the end of the month.
The state Board of Elections had first said it would hold an evidentiary hearing on or before Dec. 21, and then changed that date to Jan. 11. Last week, absent a board, a postponement was announced with no new date.
The hearing is expected to reveal what investigators have discovered since the November election. The lack of a board means witnesses and hearings can’t be held.
The investigation continues. Harris met for two hours with Strach’s staff last week on the same day members of the U.S. House were sworn in.
“We certainly want to help in any way we can with any investigation to get to the bottom of it, but we believe that, again, that I should be certified,” Harris said. “We don’t believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election and we believe, again, that that is the standard ultimately that the board of elections looks to.”
Dowless is accused in signed, sworn affidavits of collecting incomplete and unsealed ballots from voters, paid by Harris’ campaign to do so. It is illegal for anyone other than a close relative or guardian to take a person’s ballot.
“Let’s remember that Harris is under investigation for unprecedented election fraud perpetrated by his campaign, spearheaded by a man he hand-picked and paid to produce votes. He is not the victim here, the voters are,” McCready said on Twitter.
Responses to Harris’ lawsuit are due by Monday. They would come from parties of interest, primarily from McCready and the elections board staff but also anyone else.
The lack of certification also affects two races specific to Bladen County. Russell Priest, as Commissioner of District 3 for the county, and Earl Storms, as a supervisor for the Soil and Water Conservation District, also were not certified.
On Friday, Harris told The Observer of Charlotte he thought the move by judges to dissolve the nine-member board decreases the likelihood of a new election. If there is a vote for a new election, the new five-member board would need four votes to do so.
“If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it,” Cooper said in a statement Wednesday. “All North Carolinians deserve to have confidence in a system of voting that ensures honest and fair elections.”