House could have final say on new elections in N.C. election fraud case

Local elections board could deadlock after monthslong investigation, leaving House with final authority

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said Friday he would support a new election in the 9th District if illegal activity is found to have changed the results. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP file photo)
North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said Friday he would support a new election in the 9th District if illegal activity is found to have changed the results. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP file photo)
Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:52am

The North Carolina State Board of Elections will decide this week whether it will certify results of a 2018 midterm election result in the 9th District, which has been thrown into question after investigators found absentee ballot “irregularities.”

If the five-member board deadlocks, the U.S. House will decide if it will seat Mark Harris, the GOP candidate and former Baptist minister who holds an unofficial 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The seat has remained empty so far this Congress.

The House always has the final say on whether or not it seats a member-elect, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said since December.

The California Democrat has so far deferred to the local elections board as it carries out its investigation of the alleged ballot harvesting scheme executed by Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a GOP political operative who worked for Harris’ campaign.

“The House still retains the right to decide who is seated,” Pelosi said in December. “Any member-elect can object to the seating or the swearing-in of another member-elect, and we’ll see how that goes.”

“The House Administration Committee will have full investigative authority to determine the winner of the election,” Pelosi added. 

Three Democrats and two Republicans sit on the North Carolina elections board, which held its first day of public hearings on Monday as it publicizes the results of its investigation.

At least three of the board’s five members must vote to certify November’s unofficial tally for Harris’ victory to be cemented.

But it takes four votes to call a new election.

If the two Republicans vote to certify Harris’ victory, but all three Democrats vote to hold a new election, the board will be deadlocked, forcing the House Administration Committee to determine the winner.

Dowless, the operative at the center of the alleged ballot harvesting scheme, refused on Monday to testify at the hearing unless he was granted immunity. The board did not grant him immunity.

Dowless also allegedly tried — unsuccessfully — to persuade some of his associates to also invoke the Fifth Amendment, according to evidence presented at the makeshift courtroom, The News and Observer reported.

Lisa Britt, who admitted Monday that she illegally tampered with absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties at the direction of Dowless, supported Harris’ claim that he did not know his campaign consultants were doing anything illegal.

“I think you’ve got one innocent person in this whole thing who had no clue to what was going on, and he’s getting it really bad here — and that’s Mr. Mark Harris. And it’s terrible,” Britt said.

Multiple witnesses told investigators and local news outlets that they were paid by Dowless to collect and turn in absentee-by-mail ballots. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

Some of those people have said they also put their signatures on witness lines for absentee ballots that they did not actually watch as they were filled out — another election crime.

The elections board’s hearings are expected to last through Wednesday, after which it will take its final vote on whether to certify the results of the November election.