New court ruling throws wrinkle into NC-09 investigation; new board must be appointed

Judge panel denies Board of Elections stay

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A three-judge panel overseeing a lawsuit challenging the current makeup of the North Carolina State Board of Elections issued a new ruling Thursday night that effectively dissolves the board at noon on Friday.

The panel issued a ruling late Thursday afternoon denying a request to further delay an order requiring the board to dissolve.

The order was originally issued the order on October 16, 2018 but stayed its ruling through early December, to allow the current NCSBE to administer the 2018 general election.

That order was stayed or, effectively, extended several more times at the request of the parties to the lawsuit, which does not include the NCSBE.

Specifically, the parties to the lawsuit asked for continued extensions so that the NCSBE could continue investigating allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson Counties that impacted North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

Republican Mark Harris narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes. The NCSBE has refused to certify the results of the race and has been investigating a number of issues related to the election since late November.

The current stay is set to expire at noon on Friday; meaning the current NCSBE would no longer exist.

In issuing its ruling, the panel made reference to the fact that the NCSBE scheduled its hearing into the 9th Congressional District on January 11, 2019, instead of by its original self-imposed deadline of December 21, 2018.

“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 order reads.

In concluding its ruling, the order said the court does not take its job lightly.

“The fact remains that a critical election hangs in the balance, and the voters of the Ninth Congressional District are entitled to have their elected representative in place by the time Congress convenes, or to know why they will not have their representative in place, and further to know with certainty what action is being taken to ensure they are properly represented in the important matters before congress,” the order continued.

It was not immediately clear what would happen with the NCSBE in the hours after the order was issued Thursday evening.

Late Thursday night, a spokesman for the Harris campaign issued the following statement:

“Today the Court reinforced our position that the 9th District deserves to be represented in Congress on January 3rd. The State Board of Elections has yet to offer any justification as to why our race hasn’t been certified, and I am hopeful they will act swiftly in certifying this election and ensure the citizens in the 9th District will have a voice in the 116th Congress.”

Earlier in the day, the North Carolina General Assembly overrode a veto by Governor Roy Cooper of a bill that would provide for the appointment of a newly-constituted elections board.

Practically that means Cooper has until noon on Friday to seek and get a stay of the current order from the North Carolina Supreme Court or allow the current NCSBE to dissolve in the middle of a major investigation.

Even if he appointed a new board on Friday, the bill ratified into law by the NC General Assembly on Thursday says that board doesn’t take effect until January 31, 2019.

A spokesman for the NCSBE said the agency is reviewing the order.

A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued the following statement:

“The Governor’s crusade for partisan control of the Board of Elections is causing even more chaos tonight. The Governor created this mess; it’s only fitting his spend his holidays fixing it.”

But Representative Darren Jackson (D-Wake), the House Minority Leader, cast blame on Republicans in a tweet following the news of the judicial order.

“The #ncga passage of another unconstitutional law and meddling in elections creates chaos. Welcome to #PartyofTrump,” Jackson tweeted.

There was no public reaction from Cooper’s office or the McCready campaign as of late Thursday evening.

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