‘Foot dragging by two Democratic chairmen has created this mess…’
(Bruce Henderson and Craig Jarvis, The Charlotte Observer) The North Carolina State Board of Elections, while enmeshed in a protracted and unwieldy investigation into ballot fraud, expired at noon on Friday following a circuit court’s refusal to extend its charter.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday asked the state Republican and Democratic parties to nominate members to serve on an elections board until Jan. 31, when a new law takes effect restructuring North Carolina’s elections and ethics boards.
However, state Republicans said they had no intention of cooperating with Cooper’s immediate efforts to reform the partisan body, which they criticized for engaging in a fishing expedition to overturn a GOP-won congressional seat amid deep-seated fraud accusations that the board was selectively investigating.
The nine-member board was declared unconstitutional by a panel of judges, who ordered a return to separate five-member elections and eight-member ethics boards. The judges had delayed implementation of that split during the fraud investigation, but Thursday the court ruled it would not postpone again, meaning the joint ethics and elections board expired at noon Friday.
Republicans had also pressed to have the previous board dissolved after it overstepped its authority by unilaterally extending its ballot-fraud investigation—and accordingly the board’s own life—beyond its original Dec. 21 deadline to a proposed Jan. 11 deadline.
In a surprising order, the three-judge panel took the elections board to task for ignoring the court’s previous orders, including not supplying an explanation for moving the hearing deadline to Jan. 11.
“The court has no reason to believe that the January timetable proposed by the board would be followed any more than the other timetables have been,” the panel of three Superior Court judges wrote.
“The fact remains that a critical election hangs in the balance, and the voters of the 9th 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 insure they are properly represented in the important matters before Congress.”
Cooper’s letter to the two party chairs requested their nominations for the state board, to serve until a new board is convened in late January, by close of business Friday.
“It is vital that the State Board of Elections finish its investigation of potential election fraud in the Ninth Congressional District,” the governor said in a statement. “In accordance with the three-judge panel’s ruling to not extend the stay, the board will revert to its former, constitutional structure.”
But NC Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse quickly tweeted that Republicans “will not accept appointments to [Cooper’s] unconstitutional Kangaroo Court of Elections.” The party will only make appointments to the new board that takes office Jan. 31, he added.
The state GOP said the former board—chaired by a partisan Democrat who drew criticism for his suspiciously timed accusations of fraud in counties where he had been closely involved with elections for many years—had failed to turn up sufficient evidence that would prove the Nov. 6 election was tainted enough to merit a new election.
Republican Mark Harris defeated his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by 905 votes, but in late November the elections board voted at the last minute not to certify the race as board member Joshua Chambers cited voting irregularities in Bladen County and at least two other counties in his part of the state.
Although affidavits and other evidence pointed to likely fraud by a Harris get-out-the-vote contractor, McCrae Dowless—as well as a Democrat political action committee, the Bladen County Improvement Association—Harris said the evidence presented was not enough to invalidate the original outcome.
In a tweet late Thursday, Harris said the court order “reinforced our position that the 9th District deserves to be represented in Congress on Jan. 3. The State Board of Elections has yet to offer any justification as to why our race hasn’t been certified.”
A call on the board to certify him in time for Congress’s Jan. 3 swearing in went unheeded prior to the board’s dissolution. However, Harris said he planned to make the same appeal to a federal judge. His petition said his campaign “is not aware of irregularities or other concerns sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election in the 9th District.”
It is unclear whether, should Harris be certified, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi Congress might refuse to seat him when Congress reconvenes with a Democratic majority in the House next Thursday
Meanwhile, the state legislature on Thursday managed to override a veto from the governor of a bill that would allow for a new primary if a new election were deemed necessary in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
The bill also set the Jan. 31 deadline for the separate boards and included a provision that allegations of campaign finance violations remain confidential until the investigations had been completed. Cooper said it was the latter provision that he objected to.
The measure approved Thursday over Cooper’s veto transfers all active elections investigations to the new board, leaving no authority for an interim board, added Rep. David Lewis, a longtime Republican leader from Harnett County. “Foot dragging by two Democratic chairmen has created this mess,” he tweeted.
Despite its diminished authority, the elections board will “continue to investigate the irregularities in the 9th District,” board spokesman Patrick Gannon said Friday morning. “Our attorneys continue to review the effects of the court order.”
In a Dec. 21 affidavit in support of its motion to extend the stay of panel’s order, the state board said its investigators had conducted more than 100 interviews and was reviewing more than 182,000 pages of material produced in response to a dozen subpoenas.
GOP state legislators also have called on the governor to establish a special, independent and nonpartisan task-force to investigate the state’s longstanding election-fraud issues.
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
©2018 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.