House leader: Dems won’t seat candidate in unresolved race

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RALEIGH, N.C. | The dissolution of North Carolina’s elections board Friday infused further uncertainty into a still-undecided congressional race as a U.S. House Democratic leader rejected the concept of filling the seat until an investigation of ballot fraud allegations is complete.

FILE – In this Nov. 7, 2018 file photo Republican Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C. The North Carolina board investigating allegations of ballot fraud in a still-unresolved congressional race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready could be disbanded Friday, Dec. 28 under a state court ruling in a protracted legal battle about how the panel operates. The state Elections Board has refused to certify the race between Harris and McCready while it investigates absentee ballot irregularities in the congressional district stretching from the Charlotte area through several counties to the east. Harris holds a slim lead in unofficial results, but election officials are looking into criminal allegations against an operative hired by the Harris campaign. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Gov. Roy Cooper faced Republican resistance after announcing he would appoint an interim Board of Elections after a three-judge state court panel decided Thursday that the current board should disband at noon Friday. The Democrat’s move would fill the void— and allow the board to proceed with a Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing about the 9th District congressional race — until a new law overseeing the statewide elections panel can take effect Jan. 31.

Amid the drama, incoming U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer issued a statement saying House Democrats won’t allow Republican Mark Harris to be sworn in next week because of the ongoing probe.

“Given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in NC-09, Democrats would object to any attempt by Mr. Harris to be seated on January 3,” Hoyer said, adding that “the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress.”

The U.S. Constitution states that the House is the judge of the elections of its members and the final arbiter of contests.

The state Elections Board refuses to certify the race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready while it investigates absentee ballot irregularities in the district in the south-central part of the state. Harris maintains a slim lead in unofficial results, but election officials are looking into criminal allegations against an operative hired by the Harris campaign.

Friday’s conflict was set in motion by the latest ruling from a state court that previously had found the elections board’s makeup unconstitutional after the Republican-controlled legislature altered the board in 2016. The court had decided earlier this year to allow the board to remain in place until Friday while it investigates the congressional race. The latest ruling came as lawmakers enacted a new law Thursday mostly to restore the board to how it operated before 2016.

Cooper began the process of rebuilding the elections board Friday by informing the state Democratic and Republican parties that he plans to create an interim panel with five members of the current elections board, unless he receives different selections from the state parties. The interim board would last until the new law takes effect Jan. 31.

He said he would appoint both Democrats and Republicans to comply with pre-2016 state elections law he claims is temporarily back in force.

“All of these members have election law experience and an awareness of the circumstances around the allegations involved in the Ninth Congressional District election,” Cooper said in his letter to state party heads.

But state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said the dissolving board’s four GOP members “will not accept appointments to an unconstitutional, illegal sham Roy Cooper creation.” Republicans instead will withhold GOP nominees until the new law takes effect, he said.

The outgoing state board refused a last-minute formal request by Harris to certify him the winner.

The elections board reorganization threatens to delay the Jan. 11 hearing. Lawyers for Harris and McCready had a Monday deadline to submit requests to the elections board for people they wanted to have compelled to appear and testify at next month’s hearing. But if the current elections board is disbanded without a new one to replace it, the board chairman or vice chairman who could issue the requested subpoenas wouldn’t exist.