Harris files suit to be declared winner of 9th district seat

Mark Harris, center, Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District seat, speaks with reporters alongside his attorney David Freedman, right, outside the state elections board building, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in Raleigh, N.C. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)
RALEIGH — Mark Harris, Republican candidate in the nation’s last undecided congressional race, asked a North Carolina court Thursday to require that he be declared the winner because the now-defunct state elections board didn’t act.
A lawsuit by Harris claims the disbanded elections board had been declared unconstitutional, so its investigation into alleged ballot fraud by an operative hired by the Republican’s campaign was invalid.The elections board was dissolved Dec. 28 by state judges who in October declared its makeup unconstitutional. A newly formed board created by state law doesn’t officially come into existence until Jan. 31.

“Time is of the essence,” Harris’ lawsuit states. Because the new elections board won’t be created for weeks, “the uniform finality of a federal election is endangered by the State Board’s actions and the citizens of the 9th District have no representation in Congress.”

State elections staffers on Wednesday said a planned Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing to outline what investigators have found since November’s election would be postponed due to the lack of a board authorized to subpoena witnesses and hold hearings.

The investigation is continuing, however, with Harris being interviewed for two hours Thursday as all other U.S. House winners were sworn into office in Washington.

“We certainly want to help in any way we can with any investigation to get to the bottom of it, but we believe that, again, that I should be certified,” Harris said. “We don’t believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election and we believe, again, that that is the standard ultimately that the board of elections looks to.”

Harris narrowly led Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial vote counts, but the elections board refused to certify him as the winner amid an unusually large number of unused absentee ballots and a large advantage in absentees favoring the Republican in two of the 9th congressional district’s rural counties.

Witnesses signed sworn affidavits alleging that a political operative in rural Bladen County paid by Harris’ campaign collected incomplete and unsealed ballots from voters. It’s illegal for anyone other than a close relative or guardian to take a person’s ballot.

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House have said they won’t allow Harris to take office because of the ongoing investigation. The U.S. Constitution makes the House the judge of its members’ qualifications. In a 1969 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Speaker of the House could not refuse to seat a candidate to the U.S. House who was duly elected under state law. In Powell v. McCormack, the Supreme Court ruled the House’s authority to judge the “Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members” could only be exercised via expulsion which requires a two-thirds majority vote.

“Let’s remember that Harris is under investigation for unprecedented election fraud perpetrated by his campaign, spearheaded by a man he hand-picked and paid to produce votes. He is not the victim here, the voters are,” McCready said on Twitter.

Harris is asking a trial-court judge to order North Carolina’s hired elections director to certify the Republican as the winner. Evidence hasn’t surfaced justifying the delay, the lawsuit states. Responses by the elections board staff, McCready or other parties with an interest in the case are due by Jan. 14, a court administrator said.

The elections board in late November explained the delayed certification and subsequent investigation by citing a state law that allows it to take any “action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.”

The General Assembly approved a new law authorizing what will become a three-Democrat, two-Republican elections board later this month. The three-judge panel overseeing the dispute that resulted in the new board decided the same day that the old board had delayed long enough and scrapped the body last Friday.