WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina judge says there aren't grounds to step in and declare victory for the Republican in the country's last undecided congressional race amid an investigation into whether The Republican's lead was boosted by illegal vote collection tactics.
Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by Republican Mark Harris insisting he be declared the winner of the race for the 9th Congressional District. Harris' attorneys asked the judge to step in because they said the district urgently needs a representative in Washington, D.C.
Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready in the contest, but the numbers have been clouded by doubt due to allegations that mail-in ballots could have been altered or discarded by a Harris subcontractor.
The State Board of Elections was disbanded by an unrelated court order last month, and a new one takes over in nine days. Gov. Roy Cooper has asked for nominations for the new elections board by Friday.
Ridgeway said Tuesday that he's unclear why Harris' lawyers insist he decide the winner when he doesn't know what investigators found. Ridgeway told attorneys it would be a “dramatic intervention” for him to order Harris’ certification. Ridgeway called Harris’ petition unusual.
“The Board of Elections as it will be composed after January 31, 2019 will be in the best position to weigh the factual and legal issues associated with this pending protest,” Ridgeway said in a statement.
Attorneys for Harris argued certification is a process that has a mandatory timeline, and Harris should be certified as the winner while the election fraud investigation continues.
Harris' attorneys argued the judge should step in because the district's residents urgently need a representative in Washington, D.C. Harris’ attorneys told the judge that Harris and his wife have suffered because of this process. Attorneys told the judge responding to the State Board of Elections’ “overly broad” subpoena required 700 attorney hours.
Harris is represented by David Freedman, a criminal defense attorney from Winston-Salem. After the ruling, Freedman told a group of reporters that his team is not yet sure if it will appeal. Freedman said the focus is now on the inevitable evidentiary hearing.
“We are disappointed for Dr. Harris and we are disappointed for the voters of the 9th Congressional District,” Freedman said. “We didn't make this decision to file a petition based on 'Oh, yes, we are going to win." We made this decision because we had no other forum to go to with our issues.”
Senior Deputy Attorney General Amar Majmundar argued for the Board of Elections. Majmundar said evidence will be presented to show the margin of victory is in question but he has not seen the evidence personally. He also told the court there is an open question as to who rightfully won the 9th District election.
“I think this isn't usurping the will of the voters. I think it is confirming the will of the voters,” Majmundar said.
Dan McCready was represented by Marc Elias. Elias is a well-known Washington attorney who served as general counsel for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.
Elias argued Harris does not have the “clean hands” required for the writ of Mandamus. Harris’ attorney said he was offended by the comment. Elias argued the case cries for a trial of fact and not a ruling from a judge.
After the ruling, a spokesperson for Dan McCready said the McCready camp is pleased.
“The most important thing is that the people of North Carolina have a full clean investigation into election fraud,” McCready spokesman Aaron Simpson said.
Harris and McCready, did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
Harris said he could not be in attendance due to an illness stemming from an infection.
"This is a big week for us, and I'm disappointed I can't be there in person at the hearing in Raleigh,” Harris said in a statement. “I have full confidence in our team that will be on hand to make our case for certification. The doctors expect a quick, full recovery and I look forward to representing the citizens in Congress soon once we receive certification.”
On Monday in Raleigh, 9th District Republican leaders held a news conference with the North Carolina GOP in support of Harris.
Republicans said no public evidence has been produced to show the outcome is in doubt.
"We are of a belief that if the state of North Carolina certifies a race, then Congress will seat Mr. Harris,"
Dallas Woodhouse, NCGOP executive director, said.
The North Carolina Democratic Partyalso held a news conference ahead of Tuesday's court hearing.
Democrats accused Republicans of pushing a false narrative to steal a congressional seat.
"No amount of frivolous lawsuits can deliver that seat to him. Harris' lawsuit has no basis in reality," Wayne Goodwin,
NCDP chairman, said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Committee on House Administration sent a letter to the State Board of Elections asking investigators to save evidence in case the House wanted to look at it later.
House Democrats have indicated they may refuse to seat Harris, even with certification.
Harris issued the following statement Tuesday following the court ruling on certification:
"Since this whole experience began with the State Board of Elections, we have been committed to seeing the process followed and concluded. The hearing today in NC Superior Court was a place to turn when we found no place to turn but for their authority to grant a writ of mandamus.
"While we continue to maintain a 905 vote lead and the role of Congressman-elect for the 9th district of NC, the decision of the court today has extended the process even longer. While we have cooperated fully with the state's investigation of alleged ballot irregularities, no evidence has been supplied that suggests the outcome of the race is in question. Nevertheless, by the decision today, we will continue to cooperate with the investigation and hope for a speedy resolution."
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