Republican Files Legal Action in Chaotic North Carolina Congressional Race

The North Carolina State Board of Elections still has not certified its Ninth Congressional District race and one of the candidates is now taking legal action.

Republican Mark Harris announced his intentions Wednesday evening to take legal action in the NC-09 race.

On Thursday his campaign filed a Writ of Mandamus, which is an order from a court that instructs another government official to correct an abuse of discretion or ensure they properly fulfill their official duties.

In a press release, the Harris camp said the filing of the Writ was in response to the cancellation of a January 11 hearing on the NC-09 investigation and lack of transparency by the State Board of Elections.

“The State Board of Elections has not disclosed any information to suggest that the votes in question in the Board staff’s investigation are sufficient in number to change the outcome of the 9th Congressional District election,” the Harris Campaign said in the statement.

“We applaud Congressman-Elect Mark Harris’ campaign for taking this important action to make sure the more-than 750,000 people in the Ninth Congressional District are represented in Congress,” said a statement from the North Carolina GOP.

Harris won the NC-09 race by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.

The events leading up to Harris’ legal action in the NC-09 investigation are numerous and convoluted. A timeline of highlights is listed below.

November 27, 2018

News breaks that the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (NCSBE) has refused to certify the results of the November 6 election.

Allegations of irregularities involving absentee ballot harvesting land on the desks of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a former Democrat, and a consulting firm called Red Dome Strategies. The Harris campaign says it hired Dowless and Red Dome for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts in Bladen County.

In 2016, Dowless was a candidate for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor in Bladen County. During that election, Dowless himself called attention to absentee ballot irregularities in his own race.

The NCSBE dismissed Dowless’ case, citing “a lack of substantial evidence of a violation of election law or other irregularity or misconduct sufficient to cast doubt on the results of the election.”

December 1, 2018

NCSBE Chairman Andy Penry, a Democrat, resigns after a complaint filed days before calls into question his ability to be impartial in a probe of NC-09. The complaint contains a series of images of politically biased and anti-Trump social media posts.

December 3, 2018

Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) names Joshua Malcolm the new elections chairman. The appointment is not without controversy, with at least one organization calling on Malcolm to recuse himself.

The Family Values Coalition noted that Malcolm was the former chairman of one of the two counties under investigation in the NC-09 case and was “too partisan to play the role of prosecutor, judge, and jury during this investigation and proceeding.”

December 4, 2018

The NCSBE subpoena’s the Harris Campaign and the Red Dome Group, a political consulting firm that has done business with both Democrats and Republicans.

December 6, 2018

Democratic candidate Dan McCready withdraws his concession in the NC-09 race.

December 17, 2018

Documents are released by the NCSBE showing that the 2016 allegations of ballot harvesting in Bladen County were turned over to federal officials.

According to the documents, Dowless “was paying certain individuals to solicit absentee request forms and to collect absentee ballots from Bladen County voters.”

Also mentioned in the 2016 probe was the Bladen County Improvement PAC. Finance records show that the PAC has apparently received substantial amounts of money from the North Carolina Democratic Party in the past.

December 8, 2018

Vice Chairman of the Bladen County Board of Elections Jenns Lutz resigns the day after being questioned in the ongoing probe.

December 15, 2018

The first evidentiary hearing is set by the NCSBE for December 23.

December 20, 2018

The evidentiary hearing set for December 23 is canceled, but the NCSBE assures the public the investigation will go on.

“State Board staff will continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads as part of this investigation,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

December 21, 2018

The day after the first evidentiary hearing is canceled, the General Assembly meets and passes a bill that alters the election board structure, and contains language about holding new elections. House Bill 1029 included provisions for new elections but required that a new race must also have a new primary.

The bill also included changing the structure of the NCSBE back to its 2016 form. The current nine-member board is split into a five-member board of elections and eight-member ethics commission.

House Bill 1029 is sent to Gov. Cooper that same day but he waits nine days to veto the bill. His veto message did not mention the board structure, but instead said the bill made it harder to “root out corruption in elections and campaign finance.”

December 27, 2018

A three-judge panel rules on the brewing conflict involving the elections board. The ruling includes a strong reprimand for the NCSBE’s handling of the investigation and ordered the board to dissolve.

“The parties have not given even a cursory explanation as to why the hearing was continued from December 28, 2018 until January 11, 2019, let alone one demonstrating compelling reasons and substantial and reasonable justification, for not only the additional time needed, but the total disregard of the previous Order of the Court in extending the stay,” the ruling states.

Governor Cooper states he will establish an interim board. He quickly reverses course when the North Carolina GOP calls the action illegal.”

January 2, 2019

The NCSBE cancels the January 11 evidentiary hearing. The Harris campaign releases a statement citing the intention to file a Writ of Mandamus the following day.

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A.P. Dillon is a reporter for Battleground State News.
Photo “Mark Harris” by Mark Harris. Background Photo “North Carolina Capital” by Ron Cogswell. CC BY 2.0.







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2 Thoughts to “Republican Files Legal Action in Chaotic North Carolina Congressional Race”

  1. […] During the recount in 2016, McCrory had called attention to irregularities in Bladen and Robeson Counties. These are the same counties which are now under scrutiny in the chaotic North Carolina 9th Congressional race. […]

  2. […] During the recount in 2016, McCrory had called attention to irregularities in Bladen and Robeson Counties. These are the same counties which are now under scrutiny in the chaotic North Carolina 9th Congressional race. […]