News: CJ Exclusives

Cooper ditches call for interim elections board; Harris campaign to sue for certification

Gov. Roy Cooper (CJ file photo by Kari Travis)
Gov. Roy Cooper (CJ file photo by Kari Travis)

The campaign of the Rev. Mark Harris, Republican nominee for the 9th U.S. Congressional District, Thursday will ask Wake County Superior Court to certify his victory in the 2018 election.

In a statement released Wednesday night, the Harris campaign said the State Board of Elections hasn’t presented evidence of enough questionable votes to change the outcome of the election. Lacking that evidence, along with what the Harris campaign called an unlawful process to investigate the balloting, the campaign said Harris should be certified.

In unofficial results, Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Libertarian Jeff Scott finished a distant third.

The Harris campaign said it welcomes a full investigation of alleged ballot irregularities.

News of the filing came hours after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper scrapped plans to name an interim State Board of Elections and accused Republicans of obstructing the ongoing investigation.

Cooper’s announcement prompted the staff of the state board to postpone a scheduled Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing. The proceeding was set to investigate suspicious absentee ballot activity in Bladen and Robeson counties. Harris received a disproportionately high number of absentee votes in those counties.

The board’s staff said it will continue collecting information. But in a statement, the staff said, “Only seated State Board members can hold evidentiary hearings, certify elections, order new elections, or hear election protests. … All subpoenas remain legally effective.”

“State Board staff will continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads as part of this investigation,’ said Kim Westbrook Strach, the board’s executive director. “This agency remains steadfast in its obligation to ensure confidence in the elections process.”

With no board in place until Jan. 31, when House Bill 1029 takes effect, the fate of the 9th District remains in limbo — or with the 116th Congress, which could order its own investigation.

Cooper said he wouldn’t name a temporary board because the state Republican Party refused to submit recommended members from their party.

The N.C. Republican Party sent a letter Sunday to Cooper attorney William McKinney stating the governor had no constitutional authority to name an interim elections board. The GOP didn’t plan to send Cooper a list of nominees before Jan. 31, when just-passed legislation creating a new elections board takes effect.

Cooper contends he was going to name the same people — three Democrats and two Republicans — to both the temporary board and the permanent board due to be seated at the end of the month.

The five-member arrangement resembles the one in place before the end of 2016, just before Cooper took office, when the Republican-led General Assembly altered the format.

A court order struck down the new structure as unconstitutional. Lawmakers then passed H.B. 1029, returning the board to its original framework, adding a provision for a primary election if the new board orders a do-over of the 9th District race.

“All North Carolinians deserve to have confidence in a system of voting that ensures honest and fair elections,” Cooper said in the news release. “If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it — regardless of whether the candidate who finished ahead in a tainted election is a Republican or a Democrat.”

Cooper said he wanted to act quickly in naming the interim board to allow the investigation to continue without interruption.

While the Democratic Party gave him a list of nominees, the Republican Party didn’t. Cooper said he declined to appoint a board with only three Democratic members to ensure fairness.

Republicans’ failure to recommend members “could obstruct an ongoing investigation into disturbing allegations of election fraud and prevent a duly appointed, constitutional Board of Elections from being able to hear evidence and make an informed decision. For example, a hearing previously planned for January 11 on the 9th Congressional District investigation cannot go forward without members being named to the Board,” Cooper’s statement said.

The Harris campaign issued a news release Monday saying he looked forward to meeting with election board staff this week “and answering any and all questions they have. I have always taken great pride in being open and transparent. While I plan to fully comply with the ongoing review process, I am eager to be certified so I can go to Congress and be a voice for the 9th District.”

Wednesday, WSOC-TV in Charlotte reported Harris planned to meet with the board’s staff Thursday.

NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse and Chairman Robin Hayes Wednesday repeated their call for Harris to be certified. They said Cooper “gets no gold stars for following the text of the law.”

Leslie McCrae Dowless is at the heart of the probe. Harris admits hiring Dowless, but denies knowledge of any wrongdoing. Dowless, his team of operatives, and others have been accused of possible widespread, coordinated misconduct.

At issue is whether Dowless performed unlawful ballot harvesting — collecting and submitting absentee mail-in ballots from voters. State law allows only the voter, near family members, and legal guardians to turn in absentee ballots. It’s unclear whether the Dowless crew illegally filled in voters’ unmarked ballots for Harris and threw out those already checked off for McCready.

Through his attorney, Dowless has denied breaking any laws.

Allegations of ballot harvesting improprieties by both Democrats and Republicans were known by state election officials, political party representatives, and politicians going back at least to the 2010 midterm election. The Bladen County Improvement Association is under the microscope for ballot harvesting for Democrats in several election cycles.  

Several Republican state senators held a press conference Dec. 6 urging Cooper to appoint a bipartisan task force to investigate the alleged absentee ballot fraud, and possibly create a statewide database to determine how widespread the practice may be. They also suggested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Cooper has shown no interest in accepting their plea.

Meanwhile, the wild card in the election outcome remains the U.S. House of Representatives. It has constitutional authority over seating its members. Democrats will swear in a majority of House members Thursday. Maryland U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, incoming House minority leader, is among those who have said they won’t allow Harris to be seated because of the election irregularities.



  • civilwar 12

    If the voters are smart Cooper should be a one term governor.

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    So why is this such a big tug of war? Surely, things like this can be handled systematically and investigated thoroughly. I suggest a full audit of the entire race, all of it, not just the current allegation. Then rational decisions can be made based on the facts in hand. But, oh no, we have this fiasco instead which is getting worse by the day. Cooper is bollixing this up in real time by playing politics to the max. 9th Congressional district be damned, Cooper needs to be ejected from the Governor’s mansion.