News: Quick Takes

State elections board: Vote on Harris certification or new election expected after hearing

CJ photo by Kari Travis
CJ photo by Kari Travis

The Rev. Mark Harris may know if he should plan to head to Washington, D.C. — or gear up for a new election in the contested 9th Congressional District — within a couple of weeks.

The new State Board of Elections on Thursday spent several hours in closed session in a briefing on the board staff’s investigations into alleged ballot shenanigans in last fall’s election. When board members returned to open session, Chairman Bob Cordle said the board would be ready to take action after an evidentiary hearing on the 9th District, set to start Feb. 18 in Raleigh.

The hearing is expected to take two or three days.

“We will vote at that hearing whether to certify the results of the election, or order a new election, or any other matter we can decide at that time,” Cordle said before the meeting adjourned.

He thanked the staff of the board for continuing the investigation while the board positions were vacant, and the voters of the 9th District for their patience as the status of the board remained unsettled.

Harris, a Republican, won by 905 votes over Democrat in unofficial results for the open congressional seat. Allegations of widespread absentee ballot abuse, particularly in Bladen County, have drawn national attention.

On two occasions, the previous Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement refused to certify Harris’ victory. The board was disbanded effective Dec. 28 by a three-judge Superior Court panel; the judges declared the structure of the board unconstitutional in October.

The new Democratic majority in the U.S. House has said it won’t seat Harris. Four of the five state board members would have to approve a new election if Harris isn’t certified — so Congress may hold its own investigation and decide whether a new election is needed.

The board also seated hundreds of members of county boards of elections which also were vacated by the court order. Boards in 24 counties weren’t named because either Democrats or Republicans failed to submit nominees. They are: Cabarrus, Caldwell, Caswell, Clay, Cleveland, Columbus, Duplin, Gates, Halifax, Iredell, Jones, Martin, Northampton, Orange, Perquimans, Person, Randolph, Rowan, Swain, Tyrrell, Warren, Washington, Watauga, and Wilson.

One county board nominee who won’t serve is former Gov. Pat McCrory’s Chief of Staff Thomas Stith. Stith, who was nominated by Durham County Republicans to sit on that county’s board, was replaced by another candidate.

Without elaborating, Democratic State Board member Stella Anderson said Stith had some sort of relationship with Paul Foley, a state elections board member who resigned in 2015. Foley’s law firm represented a sweepstakes firm entangled in a campaign finance probe. Stith’s association with Foley, she said, constituted a conflict of interest. A state board investigation cleared the sweepstakes firm, and concluded Foley did not influence the outcome of the investigation.

The board also posted draft rules for the new state voter ID mandate.