New NC elections board sets date for 9th District hearing

Posted February 4, 2019 12:04 p.m. EST

9th Congressional District map

— The new State Board of Elections will meet in two weeks to review evidence of alleged absentee ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District.

The five-member board, which Gov. Roy Cooper appointed last week, has set a hearing in the 9th District investigation for 10 a.m. Feb. 18. The hearing is expected to last two to three days, officials said.

Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes in the race, but the former state board refused to certify the results because of suspected voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties.

Harris has acknowledged hiring Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless to oversee absentee ballot operations in the county. Several people have told reporters that Dowless paid them to pick up mail-in ballots, a felony under North Carolina law due to tampering concerns.

Dowless has, through his attorney, denied any wrongdoing, but he hasn't yet sat down with elections board investigators looking at the 9th District.

The previous nine-member elections board was dissolved by court order in late December after a panel of state judges ruled lawmakers had overstepped their authority in the way they set it up and in making other changes to the state's elections administration system in 2016.

While waiting on a new elections board, Harris tried to get a court to order state Elections Director Kim Strach to certify the 9th District results and effectively declare him the winner. But the judge refused, saying the new board has the authority to continue the investigation that started in November.

The 9th District is the only seat in Congress that is vacant, and Democrats in charge of the U.S. House have said they wouldn't seat Harris until the fraud allegations are resolved.