The 116th U.S. Congress is well under way, but short-handed, thanks to the vacant seat that represents North Carolina’s 9th House District. That’s because of election irregularities — and ensuing complications — that prevented the state elections board from certifying the results.
The situation is so bad that the U.S. House of Representatives is poised to get involved.
Our inability to settle the matter ourselves is a bad look for North Carolina.
To recap: Immediately following the election, which found Republican Mark Harris, a native of Winston-Salem, ahead of Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, the nine members of the state Board of Elections — four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated voter — voted unanimously against certifying the election results because of what it called “numerous irregularities” and “concerted fraudulent activities” involving traditional mail-in absentee ballots cast in Bladen and Robeson counties.
Numerous claims arose that Leslie McCrae Dowless, a consultant working on behalf of Harris’ campaign, coordinated an effort to illegally collect (and, perhaps, destroy) absentee ballots.
Harris claims to have no knowledge of any wrongdoing on Dowless’ part.
The story then took more twists and turns.
The elections board intended to investigate further, but was dissolved on Dec. 28 by state judges who declared its makeup unconstitutional. Gov. Roy Cooper tried to establish a temporary elections board to investigate matters, but Republicans declined to appoint GOP members.
Harris filed a lawsuit, claiming, dubiously, that since the disbanded elections board was unconstitutional, its investigation into the alleged ballot fraud was invalid and he should be declared the winner.
But even if the court did so, Democratic leaders in the U.S. House have said they won’t allow Harris to take office because of the ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, the head of the House Administration Committee last week sent a letter to N.C. elections officials asking them to preserve all original notes, recordings or documents used in investigating the allegations of ballot fraud.
As if this weren’t enough, we’ve learned that the state elections board alerted the U.S. Justice Department to suspected efforts to manipulate elections results through absentee ballots back in 2016. It’s unclear how the Justice Department responded.
But this does show that the alleged corruption reaches further than one man in one election. This is a nasty vine that needs to be rooted out.
It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Republicans have enthusiastically pushed their unsubstantiated myth of rampant voter fraud at the polls — though they were less enthusiastic when evidence of election fraud by absentee ballot surfaced.
These shenanigans weaken the public’s faith in our elections — which some operatives may find politically useful, but do our state a distinct disservice.
The best solution to this mess? For the revived elections board — it is expected to convene on Jan. 31 — to start from scratch by ordering a do-over, beginning with the primary.
A new election, before the U.S. House takes matters into its hands, is the best remedy to this embarrassing mishmash of corruption and confusion.