Fraud investigation in 9th District race ongoing, certification in limbo

(WBTV File)
(WBTV File)
Updated: Nov. 30, 2018 at 12:18 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The outcome of the hotly-contested 9th District congressional race in North Carolina has yet to be certified by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and as of Friday, there’s no word when that certification may come.

The NCSBOE held a meeting on Friday morning that began at 10:00 am. The board went into closed session immediately following the start of the meeting, and remained in closed session for just under three hours.

When the board reconvened in open session, committee member Josh Malcolm made a motion to hold an evidentiary hearing in the race.

“I move that in light of claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentees by mail ballots and potentially other matters in congressional district 9, the state board hold a then constituted, an evidentiary hearing on or before December 21 pursuant to its authority under North Carolina General Statute 163A-1180 and 1181 to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of the election," Malcolm said.

The motion passed 7-2.

Republican Mark Harris finished the race with a 905 vote margin of victory over Democrat Dan McCready. Citing evidence of voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties, the NCSBOE voted unanimously not to certify the results until an investigation could be completed.

The state board consists of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and one unaffiliated member.

State elections officials want to know if hundreds of absentee ballots may have been destroyed, improperly filled out, or not turned in.

Political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer from Catawba College in Salisbury has spent hours studying the voting numbers from Bladen and Robeson counties.

“The thing that really stuck out to me were the percentages of non-returned absentee votes, and that really stuck out in terms of the top two counties that had the highest percentage of non-returns were Robeson and Bladen, so obviously people were requesting ballots, but they weren’t returning them,” Bitzer said. “That raises some concerns, particularly with the affidavits that were filed about not just ballots that might have gone missing, but ballots collected that could have been manipulated in other ways that we have no real idea how to confirm. That’s the thing that in my mind is most disconcerting, not just that the ballots were missing but potential he ballot could’ve been manipulated, changed, and had an impact on the election."

The board has been collecting sworn affidavits from voters in Bladen and Robeson who say people came to their doors to collect absentee ballots.

The state’s highest ranking Republican says Democrats are trying to steal the election.

“There are simply not enough absentee ballots in question to change the result," said Robin Hayes, Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “Democrats are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election.”

In a Facebook post, McCready said it was important to investigate the process.

“I was as shocked as anyone to see the State Elections Board, in an unprecedented bipartisan 9-0 decision, delay certification of our election results," McCready wrote. "Our democracy depends on fair elections.”

North Carolina’s Board of Elections does have the power to conduct investigations and to subpoena witnesses, and can hold off on certifying the results until the investigation is complete.

The new congress is scheduled to be seated on January 3, 2019.

When asked what is likely to happen next in this unfolding drama, Dr. Bitzer said there are a variety of options.

“All that could potentially happen between now and the December 21 deadline, one, we will have a new state board of elections and so that will probably be reconstituted next week by the governor,” Bitzer said. “Another option is that the legislature is in session. They could conceivably come in and pass a new piece of legislation that would create a whole new state board of elections. The new state board of elections, if it’s gubernatorially appointed, could decide you know what we want to go ahead and make a decision, call off this evidentiary hearing and make a decision. There are really too many possibilities about which way this could go because there’s so much uncertainty.”

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