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Decision ’18: Fraud allegations swirl around North Carolina 9th District U.S. House race

State elections board refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’s win, launches investigation

RALEIGH (CFP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections has refused to certify the results of the results in the 9th District U.S. House race and will hold a hearing to hear evidence of “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” during the November vote.

Dan McCready

Mark Harris

The decision means that Republican Mark Harris’s apparent 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready will not become official for at least three weeks, as elections officials vet claims of possible fraud in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district that went heavily for Harris.

The Associated Press, which had called the race for Harris, has rescinded its projection. McCready, who had conceded to Harris, said he was “shocked” by the board’s decision.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” McCready said in a Twitter post. “Any effort to rob a person of that right should be met with the full force of justice.”

Harris called on the board to certify the results pending the investigation, saying delaying the certification would be a “disservice” to voters in the district, which stretches across eight counties along the South Carolina border from the suburbs of Charlotte toward Fayetteville.

“I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” he said in a statement. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”

Before voting to delay the certification, the board — which has four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member — met in closed session and did not offer any details about the fraud allegations in a statement issued afterward.

However, the Charlotte Observer reported that the board acted after receiving affidavits from voters in Bladen who said they received absentee ballots they did not request or had people appear at their door to collect their absentee ballots, efforts linked to a contractor working for the Harris campaign.

Under state law, absentee ballots can be mailed or delivered directly to county elections offices before election day. But it is illegal for anyone other than a relative or guardian to deliver a voter’s ballot on their behalf.

Harris carried Bladen County by 1,557 votes, more than his entire districtwide margin of victory. However, his margin among absentee voters — 420 to 258 — is less, indicating that absentee fraud in Bladen alone would be unlikely to overturn the final result.

The Observer reported 7.5 percent of registered voters in Bladen requested an absentee ballot, about twice the rate in the rest of the district.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen County, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

Asked in an interview with Spectrum News about the possibility of fraud, Pittenger said, “It’s been out there. We were fully aware of it. There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Harris, 52, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, has been a long-time activist among religious conservatives. He made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2014.

McCready, 34, is a businessman and former Marine Corps captain making his first run for political office.

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