As the North Carolina state elections board continues to delay certifying the results of the congressional election in the 9th District over irregularities involving absentee ballots, Rep. Robert Pittenger, the district’s lame-duck congressman, said he was “fully aware” that there were “unsavory people” afoot in one of the counties.
“We were fully aware of it. There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them,” Pittenger said in an interview with Spectrum News in Raleigh.
Pittenger, who lost his GOP primary to Baptist minister Mark Harris by 828 votes earlier this year, said he did not know what would happen to the general election results. Harris holds a 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready in the election that has now been cast in doubt.
“I don’t have a clue. I have my feelings about what’s right or wrong, but let’s leave that to those who’re [leading the investigation into the irregularities],” Pittenger said.
Election board officials voted unanimously on Tuesday to delay certifying the results due to “unfortunate activities” in Bladen County, which sits on the border with South Carolina and is the easternmost county in the 9th District.
Officials are collecting sworn statements from voters in Bladen and Robeson Counties about people who went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is illegal for a third party to turn in absentee ballots. Other people who signed sworn affidavits have said they received absentee ballots in the mail even though they didn’t request them.
An unidentified woman has been implicated in the affidavits for illegally rounding up absentee ballots from voters at their doorsteps. In two of the sworn statements, Bladen County official Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who has been wrapped up in previous allegations of voter fraud, has also been accused of wrongdoing.
One of the signed affidavits alleges that Dowless worked for Harris and would receive a $40,000 bonus if he won.
Officials have also begun examining Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in both the primary and general elections in Bladen County, where voters cast an unusually high number of absentee ballots.
Harris won 96 percent of all absentee ballots in Bladen County in his primary race against Pittenger back in May, far outpacing his margin of victory over the congressman in the county overall.
McCready issued a statement Thursday supporting the elections board’s decision to delay certifying Harris as the winner.
“Today’s news reports of the serious allegations in Bladen County are troubling. We cannot allow anyone to tamper with our elections or sabotage our electoral process. I stand with voters all across the 9th district in wanting to make sure any wrongdoing is investigated and prosecuted regardless of the outcome of the election,” McCready said.
The Democrat said he wants the elections board to hold a “full public evidentiary hearing” before certifying the election’s results.
Harris’ lawyers have asked the board for all information involving the vote count and possible instances of fraud.
The North Carolina GOP threatened court action against the elections board if it does not certify Harris as the election’s winner, saying there were “simply not enough absentee ballots in question to change the result.”
“We encourage all allegations of voter fraud to be investigated and prosecuted, and perpetrators should go to prison,” the state party said in a statement Thursday night. “However, Democrats are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election. This madness must end tomorrow.”
The board will meet via teleconference Friday to decide the next steps it will take to determine the outcome of the race in the 9th District.