The North Carolina Ninth Congressional District for the U.S. House includes parts of Charlotte as well as what one might call “sleepy” rural areas located to the south and east of the state’s largest metropolitan area.  In fact, due to allegations about voter fraud, rural Bladen and Robeson counties have become the center of a political firestorm that has garnered national media attention as an election once thought to be decided by the voters is in jeopardy of being nullified.

In the vote that took place on November 6, Republican Mark Harris appeared to have defeated Democrat Dan McCready.  On November 7, McCready called Harris to concede the race and to congratulate Harris on the Republican’s victory.  When McCready conceded the race on November 7, Harris led by over 1800 votes.  After a substantial number of provisional and additional absentee ballots were tallied to the Democrat’s advantage, Harris’s margin of victory tightened to 905 votes.

Enter the North Carolina State Board of Elections.  Based on a motion by the Board’s Vice Chair, Joshua Malcolm, which cited “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots and potentially other matters,” the Board of Elections refused to certify the election results from the Ninth District.  At the November 30 meeting, Malcolm, in his fifth year on the board, asserted that these “unfortunate” events had been taking place around his home county of Robeson “for years.” Yet, until now, Malcolm has voted to certify every count that has come before him.  On December 1, the Chairman of the Board of Elections, Andy Penry, resigned from the board after he came under pressure for some controversial partisan posts he made on social media.  Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper then promptly named Malcolm, also a Democrat, as Chairman.

At the heart of the controversy stands the claim that a number of votes for McCready by absentee ballot were suppressed in Bladen and Robeson counties.  Allegedly, large numbers of McCready’s absentee-by-mail votes were stolen.  However, no discrepancy exists between McCready’s votes compared to those of other Democrats who ran in statewide elections or other races within the Ninth District.

Media attention has focused upon an alleged gap between the number of absentee ballot applications and the number of returned absentee-by-mail ballots in Bladen County.  However, three factors may have had a depressing effect on the number of absentee ballots returned.  The North Carolina 4thDistrict Court of Appeals issued a ruling that left the door open for a new election with new federal and state districts, a ruling which delayed the mailing of absentee ballots; Hurricane Florence displaced hundreds, including potential voters who may have not voted, because, for example, they were staying with relatives out of town; and the Center for Voter Information spent $92,718 in the 2018 election cycle, which included the sending of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to thousands of female and minority voters identified as unlikely to vote in the 2018 mid-terms.  Arguably, the foregoing factors could account for any atypical discrepancy between the number of absentee ballot applications and the number of returned absentee-by-mail ballots in Bladen County. Moreover, In Bladen County, the county-certified tally of absentee votes for Harris is 420—not enough by itself to alter the election result, since Harris won by over 900 votes.

Additionally, although the Democrat Party of North Carolina released two affidavits from Bladen County voters who claim that a female took their absentee ballots from them, both of these voters, Datesha Montgomery and Emma Shipman, cast accepted ballots in person during early voting.  Thus, Montgomery and Shipman did cast votes in the election Harris won, so the vote tally is unchanged by their allegations.

As the Harris campaign notes, certification does not preclude investigating every single allegation made, and, therefore, certifying the results and conducting an investigation are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, while flatly denying knowledge of any wrongdoing, Harris supports a new election should the investigation reveal evidence of improprieties on either side “to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election.”

The current Board of Elections was set to dissolve December 3, and would have done so, had not the Harris campaign obtained a court order preventing it. Without a board in place, Cooper could have delayed naming a board, thereby delaying certification which would have given the Democrat controlled House impetus and political cover to seat a Democrat instead of Harris.  Democrat House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, has already publicly called into question whether or not Harris will be allowed to actually take his Congressional seat. A new election may be in the works, yet that is still to be determined.   As time marches on, the interests of the people of the Ninth District hang in the balance.