Political News

North Carolina Republicans begin push for a new primary amid fraud scandal

Posted December 12, 2018 5:08 p.m. EST

— Republicans in the North Carolina legislature are seeking to change state law to guarantee that any call for a new general election in the scandal-plagued 9th Congressional District will also include a re-run of the party primaries.

The GOP-controlled state House and Senate passed a provision requiring a new primary on Wednesday. It is the clearest sign yet that, should there be a new election, Republicans in North Carolina are inclined to move beyond current nominee Mark Harris, who appeared to have secured a narrow victory in November over Democrat Dan McCready.

North Carolina's State Board of Elections is currently investigating evidence that a political operative hired by a consulting firm working for the Harris campaign directed election fraud. If they can corroborate mounting evidence of irregularities, it is expected they will call for a new vote early next year.

It is unclear whether Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will sign the Republican bill. His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Republicans in the North Carolina legislature currently hold a veto-proof supermajority -- but only until the end of this session, meaning any potential move to override Cooper should he veto the measure could set off new protests and accusations of a power grab.

Harris challenged and defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger in a May primary. The results of that vote have also come under scrutiny for potential election fraud. Pittenger could run again if a new primary is called.

A change to the law could also open up the pool to other potential GOP candidates. Among them is former Governor Pat McCrory, whose name is being floated by Republicans in the state. An associate close to McCrory said, despite the speculation, his candidacy is unlikely.

State elections officials are in the process of reviewing evidence of absentee ballot fraud allegedly orchestrated by Leslie McRae Dowless, whose efforts potentially helped Harris score a lopsided victory in Bladen County's count. The board is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing in the coming days and could, perhaps with both parties' blessings, schedule a repeat of the midterm contest in 2019.

Harris has denied wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer. He has not responded to CNN's multiple requests for comment.

Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina GOP's executive director, said on Tuesday the party would, in the wake of a separate report that early vote tallies in Bladen had been leaked, support a new election. He did not address speculation over a second primary.

Under the current law, the State's Board of Elections, which signed off on the primary results but has not certified the general election, is only empowered to decide on a new contest between Harris and McCready. That means the lone path right now to another primary runs through the US House of Representatives, which could refuse to seat the winner.