Monday, 14 January 2019 12:51

Harris expects state certification, says he has GOP backing in Congress

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RALEIGH — Republican Mark Harris says he expects a state court will certify him the winner of the disputed 9th U.S. Congressional District election. He will go to Washington despite what he considers political interference by a Democratic-controlled state elections board to scuttle his victory.

In an interview Friday with Carolina Journal, Harris said he received positive feedback from North Carolina’s Republican congressional delegation during a teleconference call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Some congressional Democrats have said they won’t seat Harris. They’ve vowed to go to court if necessary to block him. Harris said some election board Democrats may have intentionally delayed his certification to give their party a chance to gain the seat.

Wake County Superior Court officials said Friday that no hearing date has been set on Harris’ petition to have the court declare him the winner over Democrat Dan McCready, who trails by 905 votes in the unofficial count. Monday is the deadline for all sides to file their legal arguments with the court.

Getting state certification is the key, Republican lawmakers told him. Even though the U.S. House has the authority to call for a new election, Harris cited statements from members in Congress in both parties that elections should be run by the states.

“It raises serious suspicions about what was going on that now leaves me unable to be in Washington at one of the most crucial times for our country,” he said, citing the partial government shutdown.

Harris noted the possibility that Democrats Andy Penry and Joshua Malcolm, former chairmen of the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, might have neglected their duties as neutral, quasi-judicial arbiters.

The state elections board refused to certify the results, and ordered an investigation into alleged election fraud. A Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing was canceled after a court order dissolved the board due to its unconstitutional structure.

Harris noted the three-judge panel’s order took Malcolm to task for failing to meet court deadlines. This left voters disenfranchised without an elected representative, the judges wrote. It influenced the judges’ decision to dissolve the board even though results in the 9th District and a handful of local races hadn’t been certified.

Residents of the 9th District “are being taxed without representation, and it is a crying shame that we can see political things such as this begin to get in the way of what is happening,” Harris said.

Penry resigned Dec. 1 after nasty social media attacks he launched against Republicans surfaced.

Gov. Roy Cooper tapped Malcolm to succeed Penry. Malcolm and the state elections board failed initially to fully disclose communications between Malcolm and Jens Lutz, a Democratic member of the Bladen County Board of Elections, about alleged absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County. Malcolm also failed to disclose the potential conflict of interest at board meetings.

Cooper appointed Lutz chairman of the Bladen County elections board in April 2018. Lutz unexpectedly resigned in December after making a series of allegations about lax security measures at the county elections board. He’s refused to comment publicly on those charges.

Lutz is a former business associate of Leslie McRae Dowless, the GOP political operative named a person of interest in allegedly widespread and possibly illegal ballot harvesting for Harris. That is the act of obtaining absentee ballots en masse and submitting them to elections officials. By law only the voter, near family members, or guardians may submit those votes. Dowless denies any wrongdoing. Both Lutz and Dowless have criminal records.

Bobby Ludlum, the current Bladen County Board of Elections chairman, refutes all of Lutz’s claims, and affidavits of others alleging improprieties, in a sworn affidavit Harris plans to file with the court Monday to support his petition for certification.

Malcolm’s flip-flopping also has been questioned.

In 2016 the board accepted a motion from Malcolm dismissing a challenge by Dowless. Dowless said absentee ballot violations by the Bladen County Improvement Association helped Cooper defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Malcom said there weren’t enough questionable votes to change the outcome of Cooper’s win.

But after the November 2018 election, Malcolm made the motion not to certify Harris’ win even though there weren’t enough votes at issue for McCready to defeat Harris.

Harris said no one has told him why his certification was denied, even though the McCready campaign didn’t ask for a recount. Nor was a challenge of the results issued by the legal deadline. Moreover, all the election boards in the counties comprising the 9th District validated their vote totals.

Harris said he doesn’t regret hiring Dowless. Harris said he knew Dowless helped an opponent in the 2016 GOP congressional primary deliver unusually high absentee votes, and Bladen County officials who vouched for Dowless were credible.

Although Dowless is the subject of a 2016 report about ballot harvesting the state elections board sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate, Harris said after two years Dowless has not been charged with any crimes, and the court system considers a person innocent until proven guilty. He said some of the 2018 affidavits against Dowless are starting to crumble amid media investigations.

Friday morning, about three dozen protesters rallied outside the state elections board office in Raleigh. They marched to the federal courthouse to deliver more than 200 petitions calling for Robert Higdon, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, to meet with Bladen County community members and give answers about the 2016 investigation. Many in attendance said they lived outside of 9th District. Some were from South Carolina.

Marcus Bass, executive director of the N.C. Black Alliance, was among the speakers claiming votes were stolen, and law enforcement officials aren’t investigating fully.

If it happened in Bladen County, and the 9th District, it could happen elsewhere, Bass said. 

Jen Ferris of Progress North Carolina complained about voter ID laws, gerrymandered voting districts, and changes to polling places and early voting hours.

“For too long those in power have held democracy hostage in North Carolina,” Ferris told the sign-waving, chanting protesters. “Now they have been caught stealing actual ballots.”

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report released Saturday said some of the 9th District residents who worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the 2016 report are frustrated. They say nothing was done to publicize the alleged ballot harvesting before last year’s election or make people aware of prosecutors’ interest in Dowless.

Harris said he was blindsided by the 2016 report, first released publicly just before Christmas, and was disturbed the elections board waited so long to release it, depriving candidates of information to consider in hiring decisions. Despite his misgivings about the elections board, he says the staff has treated him fairly. He continues to support the investigation, and said he is unaware of any misconduct by his campaign.

Marcus Bass, executive director of the N.C. Black Alliance, speaks at a Jan. 11, 2019 rally at the federal building in Raleigh, protesting an unresolved 2016 investigation of irregularities in the 9th U.S. Congressional District. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)