A “systematic failure of the election process” may warrant a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes says.

The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement must assume control over the Bladen County Board of Elections’ operations if a new election is held, Hayes said in a news release Tuesday, Dec. 11.

This is a change from the party’s earlier position. State Republican Party Chairman Dallas Woodhouse told CNN Dec. 7 he would support a new election if it’s proven absentee mail-in ballot fraud was so rampant it altered the course of the election Republican Mark Harris won over Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

A report published Monday in The Charlotte Observer, that Bladen County officials may have released absentee ballot counts early and shared the results with outsiders, led the GOP to call for a new election if the premature release were confirmed. At a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Charlotte, Woodhouse said he believed the absentee voting information had been leaked.

Republican lawmakers also held a news conference Tuesday in which they contemplated the possibility of a new election.

Meanwhile, Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Chairman Joshua Malcolm has asked a panel of Superior Court judges to extend the election board’s life until the investigation into widespread election anomalies in Bladen and Robeson counties concludes. The judges previously ordered the board to dismantle by Dec. 12 because it was unconstitutionally organized under Republican legislation.

Republican senators said at their Tuesday news conference they would file a similar request with the court seeking an extension of the order for the state elections board to disband. Monday, Woodhouse posted on Twitter the Republican Party supports Malcolm’s request to extend the board’s terms to continue the investigation for as long as it takes. “The report on the leaking of early voting numbers in Bladen County is highly concerning,” he said in his post. “This is never suppose [sic] to happen.”

Hayes said the Bladen County Board of Elections “has shown itself incapable of managing fair elections,” and cited the Observer story about a possible leak of early voting totals.

State law prohibits counting of absentee ballots until election day, at which time a majority of county election board members must be present, with at least one representative of the two major parties in attendance.

“This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for,” Hayes said. “We can never tolerate the state putting its thumb on the scale. The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election.”

Under current law, a new election ordered by the state board would pit Harris, McCready, and distant third-place Libertarian Jeff Scott. At press time, the House Rules Committee was debating legislation requiring a new state board to allow a primary with other candidates if the 9th District race were redone.

The U.S. House of Representatives could order a new election with the possibility of a primary open to other candidates.

According to the Observer story, the ‘tape’ showing election results at Bladen County’s one-stop polling site was tabulated after the polls closed Nov. 3, the last day of early voting. The totals were viewed by officials who weren’t judges. “It is my understanding that this was improper,” Democratic precinct worker Agnes Willis wrote in an affidavit dated Nov. 29.

Hayes said accessing early vote totals before the overall results are final can clearly give an unfair advantage to one candidate over another. The Republican Party has been concerned about the security and confidentiality of the early vote for years, he said.

Hayes cited the resignation of Jens Lutz as Democratic vice chairman of the Bladen County Board of Elections after the state inquiry into election irregularities began.

“Sometimes in life circumstances reach the breaking point especially when your [sic] trying to do the right thing,” Lutz wrote in an email to State Elections Board Executive Director Kim Strach. “It becomes even more difficult when your family is drug into the drama plus your own party begins to attack you for compromising and common sense decisions.”

Lutz, a Democrat who has been interviewed by investigators, was once a partner in a political consulting firm with then-Democrat Leslie McCrae Dowless, a central figure in the ballot harvesting scandal. Lutz said he became suspicious of Dowless’ activities and ended his involvement in the firm, a story by WSOC-TV reported.

The state elections board has named Dowless, a convicted felon, a person of interest in its investigation. Subpoenas were issued to Harris’ chief political strategist, Red Dome Group, which hired Dowless for get-out-the-vote efforts, and the Mark Harris for Congress Committee.

Dowless is believed to have paid a crew of workers to glean absentee mail-in ballots from voters, and submit them to him for delivery to the county elections boards, which is illegal. Investigators hope to determine whether those workers checked boxes for Harris, and threw out ballots voters already filled in for McCready.

Democrats are demanding to know what Harris knew about Dowless’ activities.

“There has been one voice, however, that’s been absent from much of this election scandal,” N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin told news representatives on Tuesday. “Mark Harris has been hiding behind his lawyers and refusing to answer questions from voters and media.”