News: CJ Exclusives

Filing begins in 9th District race; general election set Sept. 10

State Board of Elections members Stella Anderson, Bob Cordle, Ken Raymond, and David Black at the March 4 board meeting. (CJ photo by Dan Way)
State Board of Elections members Stella Anderson, Bob Cordle, Ken Raymond, and David Black at the March 4 board meeting. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

Candidate filing for North Carolina’s fraud-scarred 9th U.S. Congressional District will begin next week for a May 14 primary, and the general election is set for Sept. 10.

The State Board of Elections approved the special election schedule Monday, March 4, the same day candidate filing began in the 3rd U.S. Congressional District special election to replace 13-term U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, who died last month.

The elections board also approved sending staff to Bladen and Robeson counties, the epicenter of the fraud allegations, to train and oversee county elections boards for the 9th District election.

It’s unusual to have two open congressional seats simultaneously up for special elections, but elections board Executive Director Kim Strach said having different schedules would not be a logistical problem for staff, and because the districts have no county overlap.

The Rev. Mark Harris, a Republican, unofficially won the 9th District election on Nov. 6 over Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, and by a much larger margin over Libertarian Jeff Scott.

But the elections board refused twice to certify the election results over concerns about massive absentee by-mail election fraud and other irregularities. Harris’ attempt to get a court to order the elections board to certify him failed. The elections board then held a four-day evidentiary hearing at which testimony and evidence corroborated fears of widespread corruption.

Harris abruptly ended his evidentiary hearing testimony Feb. 21 in the face of what promised to be lengthy cross-examination by McCready’s attorney, Marc Elias. Harris said he had not fully recovered from an illness requiring ongoing medical treatment, and called for a new election.

As doubts about Harris’ ability for a repeat win escalated, he withdrew his candidacy Feb. 26, citing health and a pending surgery.

Leslie McCrae Dowless, the alleged mastermind of the absentee ballot fraud ring, was arrested and jailed, along with several alleged co-conspirators. He subsequently was released on bail. 

The elections board has responsibility to set the new 9th District election due to a law passed by the General Assembly late last year.

Candidate filing will be March 11-15. Absentee by-mail ballots will go out March 29. A primary will be held May 14. Also on that ballot will be new elections for the Bladen County Commissioner District 3 race, and Soil and Water Conservation District. Those were caught up in the absentee ballot fraud investigation. Those races don’t require primaries, just new elections.

If no candidate wins 30 percent of the May 14 primary, a runoff would be held Sept. 10, and the general election would be pushed back to Nov. 5.

Strach said having the election Sept. 10 would be helpful for counties, especially Mecklenburg, holding municipal partisan primaries on that day.

“We think it is extremely important that our staff be on the ground in Bladen and Robeson counties through this process ensuring that their training, and basically all aspects of election preparation are being done with our oversight,” Strach said.

Among investigation findings was that Bladen County early voting poll workers unlawfully tabulated early voting results and turned them in to the county board. It’s believed those results were leaked. Early voting numbers aren’t supposed to be counted until election day.

Gov. Roy Cooper set the dates for the 3rd Congressional District special election, culminating with election day April 30.

Other important dates in that race include a candidate filing period that began Monday and runs through Friday; absentee by-mail voting starting March 15; one-stop early voting from April 10 through April 26. If a runoff primary is necessary because no candidate received 30 percent of ballots cast, that would be held July 9, with election day on Sept. 10. Other voting dates would be pushed back accordingly.