@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Elections board sets hearing date for 9th District investigation

Posted December 14, 2018 4:46 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2018 6:51 p.m. EST

— The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement plans to delay its public hearing on North Carolina's 9th Congressional District results until Jan. 11.

That's a week after the new Congress is slated to be seated in Washington, D.C., meaning the district won't have a member of Congress at first.

Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer, who has followed the 9th District saga closely, said a small staff of holdovers from Congressman Robert Pittenger's office can stay on to handle constituent services.

Republican Mark Harris seemed to win the 9th District election by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready, but the state board declined to certify those results. Concerns of absentee ballot tampering opened the prospect of a new election, including a new primary.

McCrae Dowless, a political operative who worked for Harris' campaign, is the focus of the investigation. Witnesses have said Dowless had teams of people going door to door to illegally collect mail-in ballots, and others now say Harris might have known about such conduct when he hired him.

Harris, who didn't respond to requests for comment, has denied knowing about any wrongdoing.

"The question then is, did Harris, was he naïve and didn't realize what was going on? Was he guilty of bad judgment? Or was he involved in wrongdoing?," longtime GOP campaign consultant Carter Wrenn said.

Republican state lawmakers aren't taking chances. This week, they passed a bill allowing a new primary election if the state elections board calls for a redo of the November race.

The North Carolina Republican Party and its local affiliates aren't going that far, although some are calling on Harris to respond to the allegations.

"Now, the Republicans seem to be of two minds: One saying, 'No. we need a new candidate,' and the others saying, 'Well, they haven't proven anything yet,'" Wrenn said.

The list of potential Republican candidates is growing by the hour, topped by Congressman Robert Pittenger, who lost to Harris in the May primary, and former Gov. Pat McCrory. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The elections board initially planned to wrap its investigation into the race and hold a hearing by Dec. 21, but Chairman Joshua Malcolm said recently more time would be needed. Board spokesman Patrick Gannon said in a news release Friday that investigators are awaiting additional documents from parties subpoenaed in the matter.

The 9th District runs from Charlotte to Bladen County and includes all or parts of Mecklenburg, Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland, Robeson, Cumberland and Bladen counties.