BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. — The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has voted to hold an evidentiary hearing to address irregularities in the U.S. House District 9 race.
State election officials voted 7-2 Friday to hold the hearing on or before Dec. 21.
The vice chair of the bipartisan board made the motion, calling for officials to look at absentee by-mail ballots and potentially other matters in the district that stretches from Charlotte to Bladen County.
“To assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election,” Joshua Malcolm said.
Dan McCready released this statement on Friday's Board of Election meeting:
"I respect today's decision by the bipartisan Board of Elections to delay certification of our election results until a full investigation is completed of all credible allegations of voter fraud and irregularities. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Any effort to rob a person of that right should be met with the full force of justice. Today's decision takes a strong step forward ensuring that the people of the ninth district have the answers they deserve and any bad actors are held accountable."
On Thursday, Channel 9 obtained several affidavits out of Bladen County, voicing concerns about how the congressional election in November was handled.
Witnesses who signed the affidavits claimed a known player in the county’s political circles and an electioneer was also working for the campaign of Republican Mark Harris.
One of those sworn affidavits claims that man, Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., would receive a $40,000 bonus from the Harris campaign if Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready.
“People hire him to work their campaigns for them to get the votes to get them elected,” said Dwight Sheppard, a registered Democrat, who was one of several people who signed sworn statements.
Another affidavit said Dowless was “doing absentee” for Harris. The document claims Dowless said, “You know I don’t take checks. They have to pay me cash.”
Another affidavit points to workers going to voters' doors to collect absentee ballots. One voter said a worker told her she would finish the voter’s ballot for her. Both acts would be illegal.
>>Channel 9's Joe Bruno traveled to Bladen County Friday. Watch the video at the top of this page as he speaks with one of those witnesses who signed an affidavit and digs into what voters there say they experienced leading up to the election.
"I think there was some wrongdoing in the absentee ballot voting,” Sheppard told Channel 9.
North Carolina's Elections Board delayed finalizing the results Tuesday of the close U.S. House race, as officials appear to be scrutinizing potential wrongdoing within the 9th Congressional District.
Mark Harris released a statement Friday:
“Today, after meeting behind closed doors for almost three hours, the State Board of Elections not only refused to certify our election results, but again refused to provide any details to the public as to what exactly is being investigated. They also chose to move forward with a hearing on a locally-certified election result that is almost a month old, despite there being no statutorily-required formal protest in either my race or the local race. Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties. But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the 9th District.
This afternoon, we have filed an intervening motion in state court to request an extension of the stay that would change the current State Board. They should be required to stay in existence and certify this election so as not to disenfranchise the voters of the 9th District.”
Dan McCready released a statement Thursday night:
"As you know, the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously this week to delay the certification of our election results in NC's 9th district due to allegations of fraud and irregularities.
“I support the bipartisan board's decision and its efforts to ensure our elections are fair and every voice is heard.
“Today's news reports of the serious allegations in Bladen County are troubling. We cannot allow anyone to tamper with our elections or sabotage our electoral process. I stand with voters all across the 9th district in wanting to make sure any wrongdoing is investigated and prosecuted regardless of the outcome of the election.
“We must do everything we can to protect the integrity of our ballots and sanctity of our elections because our democracy depends on it. I am confident the State Board of Elections will take the right course of action by holding a full public evidentiary hearing before certifying the election.”
The NC GOP also released a statement Thursday night:
"The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has a legal and moral duty to certify Congressman-Elect Mark Harris' winning bid for Congress on Friday. If not, immediate court action will follow.
"There are simply not enough absentee ballots in question to change the result. Mark Harris was elected to Congress. Mark Harris is going to Congress. Democrats don't get a do-over based on unverified rumors that were not even put in an official election protest as required by law.
"We encourage all allegations of voter fraud to be investigated and prosecuted, and perpetrators should go to prison. However, Democrats are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election. This madness must end tomorrow."
The NC Democratic Party released a statement Thursday:
“These allegations are serious and disturbing. If true, the people’s right to freely and fairly cast their votes was thoughtfully and deliberately undermined, casting a shadow over this election. These claims must be fully investigated by state and federal authorities, and a full public hearing conducted, before certification of the 9th Congressional District election."
Board members voted unanimously to certify the final tallies in nearly all of the elections held earlier this month but didn't sign off on the 9th District, as well as a handful of other races subject to protests or recounts.
Harris leads McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 votes cast in all or parts of eight south-central counties encompassing the 9th District. The GOP has held the district since 1963.
In the two web extra videos below, UNCC political science professor Eric Heberlig weighs in on these allegations.
Harris is already in Washington preparing to take office. The official swearing into office is on Jan. 3.
(VIDEO: Previous coverage)
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