@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

State seizes Bladen County evidence in 9th District investigation

Posted November 28, 2018 2:55 p.m. EST
Updated November 28, 2018 4:10 p.m. EST

— A State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement investigator seized absentee ballot envelopes and request forms from the Nov. 6 election in Bladen County, the board confirmed Wednesday.

Spokesman Patrick Gannon also confirmed that the board is investigating "potential irregularities involving absentee ballots in the 9th Congressional District."

The board refused Tuesday to certify results in that race. Board members were tight-lipped after their unanimous decision, but problems were suggested in the district's southeastern corner, and the board's closed-session discussions pointed toward an open investigation.

Gannon confirmed the investigation Wednesday after Bladen County Board of Elections Chairman Bobby Ludlum told reporters that the state board's chief investigator seized absentee ballot envelopes from the election. Ludlum said he wasn't sure how many envelopes were seized, saying only "several."

Chief Investigator Joan Fleming picked out the envelopes she was interested in, and the county got a receipt for the seizures, Ludlum said.

"She did not take any ballots," he said. "She did not look at any ballots. I was there for the entire period of time that she was there."

Republican Mark Harris won the 9th District race by about 900 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast, and Democrat Dan McCready conceded the race after election day. Results aren't final without the state board signing off on them, though, and members weren't willing to do that Tuesday when they gathered to certify results from other races across the state.

State records indicate 684 ballots were cast absentee by mail in Bladen County in the race, most of them for Harris. Gannon declined to say whether anything else has been seized from any other counties in the district, but Robeson County Board of Elections Chairman Steve Stone said a state investigator reached out Wednesday for logs his county elections office kept of people who turned in large numbers of voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests.

Stone said he didn't know whether the request tied back to the State Board's investigation in the 9th District.

The state board's decision not to certify Tuesday took people by surprise. An attorney for the Harris campaign sent the board a letter Wednesday asking for "all information relating to the investigation."

"Further, if it appears that the number of votes clearly involved does not represent a number sufficient to change the result of the election in Rev. Harris' race, we request that you immediately notify me of that fact," attorney Roger W. Knight wrote in his letter.

The board is slated to come back into session Friday morning, but Gannon's statements Wednesday indicated issues with the race may not be resolved by then.

The statute cited by the board in delaying the certification of that contest (G.S. 163A-1180) does not include a deadline or time frame for certification," Gannon said in an email. "State Board members are mindful that new members of Congress are expected to be sworn in in early January."

This is a tumultuous time for the board. The head of the Wake County Republican Party filed a complaint Wednesday, seeking to have the board chairman removed, and the state legislature plans to rework the board's makeup during the ongoing General Assembly session.