‘An extremely unusual situation, with no board in place, and asking this court to step in…’
(Will Doran, The News & Observer) North Carolina’s investigation into election fraud by the Mark Harris campaign will continue, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Harris is the Republican candidate who appeared to narrowly win an election for North Carolina’s 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 elections. But the state has not officially certified his victory, due to an ongoing investigation into alleged fraud related to mail-in absentee ballots.
Harris and his legal team had asked Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway to order the state to certify the results of the election despite the investigation, which could then send Harris to Congress. Following two hours of arguments from Harris’ lawyers as well as lawyers for the state and his Democratic opponent Dan McCready, Ridgeway said he would deny Harris’ request.
“This is an extremely unusual situation, with no board in place, and asking this court to step in and exert extraordinary power in declaring the winner of an election, when that is clearly the purview of another branch of government,” he said during the hearing.
And in his ruling, Ridgeway said it would be inappropriate for him to order elections officials to take an action while they are still investigating.
The state elections board “has authority under (state law) to initiate and consider complaints on its own motion,” Ridgeway said. “Until a protest is resolved there is no requirement the board must certify an election.”
Complicating matters is the fact that there is currently no state board of elections, as Ridgeway alluded to. The board that began the investigation was ruled unconstitutional and then dissolved, and the board that will replace it is not scheduled to be created until Jan. 31.
In the meantime, state government attorney Amar Majmundar argued, there is no one who could certify an election even if Ridgeway had ordered it.
And Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic lawyer involved in the case, said that while other states have rules that elections should be handled quickly, North Carolina is “a get-it-done” state, which gives “sweeping authority” to investigators to take their time in getting to the bottom of election investigations.
Early in the proceedings Tuesday, Ridgeway said that “I don’t think anybody knows what the investigation shows” and asked Harris’ attorneys why they couldn’t wait nine days to see what the new elections board will do, instead of asking a judge to circumvent that process.
David Freedman, one of Harris’ attorneys, said the lack of a board right now is beyond their control.
He said Harris has already sat with investigators for questioning and turned over documents. Since investigators have not yet published any findings that he won due to fraud, Freedman said, the state should certify him “and remove this taint from Dr. Harris.”
Majmundar said it would be “great” if the investigation found Harris’ win was not tainted by fraud — but that investigators need time to find the truth.
“It’s the remedy,” he said. “And that’s not just for Dr. Harris. It’s the remedy for anyone.”
©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.