North Carolina’s elections board delayed finalizing the results Tuesday of a close U.S. House race, as officials appear to be scrutinizing potential wrongdoing within the 9th Congressional District.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement gave little explanation for the move, but the vote was bipartisan and unanimous. The board also held off certifying a handful of other races, but those were subject to protests or recounts.
In the 9th Congressional District, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 votes cast in all or parts of eight south-central counties encompassing the 9th. The GOP has held the district since 1963.
The board met privately for nearly two hours before voting in public and recessing until Friday, when it may revisit the issue.
“I can’t reveal to you things that were done in closed session,” board Chairman Andy Penry told reporters after the meeting, referring to them as “matters that are under investigation.”
The board closed its meeting under an exception in state open meetings law that allows private sessions to hear reports of “alleged criminal misconduct.”
Member Joshua Malcolm of Robeson County lives in the 9th District and made the motion to delay race certification until at least Friday, when the board is to reconvene. Malcolm’s motion cited a state law that says the board can “take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.”
Before board members went behind closed doors, Malcolm said he was concerned about “unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state, and I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding.”
Malcolm wouldn’t elaborate after the meeting. An effort to reach the Board of Elections Director for Robeson County wasn’t successful Tuesday afternoon. Bladen County Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw said Tuesday that she didn’t know what the hold up was.
“Have not heard one thing,” she said.
In December 2016, the state board agreed to send to federal prosecutors what its staff uncovered while scrutinizing the November 2016 election and absentee ballots in Bladen County, part of which sits in the 9th District. The board didn’t disclose what it had found.
On Tuesday, Malcolm referenced repeated referrals to unnamed district attorneys and a U.S attorney, “who were going to take action and clean it up.”
“In my opinion those things have not taken place,” Malcolm said during the meeting.
Spokesmen for the Harris and McCready campaigns didn’t respond to texts Tuesday seeking comment on the board’s decision. McCready conceded the race the day after Election Day, when unofficial totals had Harris ahead by less than 1,900 votes. He didn’t change his mind later this month when additional absentee and provisional ballots counted cut the margin in half.
State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse predicted swift legal action.
“They are obligated to certify that race,” Woodhouse said. “Court action is pending on our side.”
While details about the nature of the investigation are still scarce, it’s still remarkable that the board not only delayed its certification but did so on its own and unanimously. This story is a reminder that every step of the election process – even ones that feel more or less like a formality – is important and worth taking seriously. It isn’t yet clear if this will have an impact on the outcome in the 9th District, but it could become yet another election controversy in a state that has already had more than its share in recent years. Stay tuned …