Elections Board Readies For Showdown Between 9th District Candidates

Elections Board Readies For Showdown Between 9th District Candidates

2:54pm Feb 15, 2019
Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C., in November. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

On Monday, the State Board of Elections will begin a hearing on what to do with North Carolina’s embattled 9th Congressional District.

That race was narrowly won by Republican Mark Harris in November.

But since then, evidence has emerged that ballots in Bladen County and elsewhere may have been tampered with or destroyed on behalf of the Harris campaign. Because of that, the board has not finalized the results, and the 9th District has no congressman.

So what can we expect from the hearing, and what will it mean for North Carolina politics going forward?

WFDD’s Sean Bueter spoke to Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer to find out more.

Interview Highlights

On the arguments expected from the Harris and McCready teams at the hearing:

I think on the Republican side, the lawyers and the team for Mark Harris will make the argument that even though there may have been irregularities, it doesn't amount to enough to call into question the 905 vote margin.

I think on the Democratic side for the Dan McCready team, they will be arguing "we don't know, conceivably, how many ballots were either tampered with, manipulated, or potentially destroyed by the ground operations game that [Harris political operative] McCrae Dowless was working on behalf of the Harris campaign. So we can't say definitively that this 905 vote margin is legitimate." And so they will be trying to call into question [the Republican] perspective.

On how this case could affect North Carolina politics in the future:

The one aspect that I would be concerned about: the information that McRae Dowless was using is public information from the state board and voter registration files. And some have argued that we need to close off that information, we need to close that off to the public. I think that personally is kind of a "baby with the bath water" issue because the [reason] that we could figure out something was amiss in all of this was because of that public and transparent kind of information.

So I think this will continue to be a hot issue in North Carolina politics at least for the next couple of months, potentially because we'll have a new election in the 9th before we wrap up here.

On just how extraordinary this story is:

It is historic and I have to keep reminding myself that this is not the norm, per se, in terms of watching this unfold. And we could potentially, here in North Carolina, have two congressional seats that are vacant [3rd Congressional District Rep. Walter Jones recently died]. That hasn't happened since the late 1800s, as far as I can tell.

So much of the issues of the integrity of the vote, the irregularities of ballot manipulation ... has been something that, I think if you went to Hollywood with a screenplay, they would laugh you out of the room because this is just too bizarre. And yet here's where we are, three months later and we're still trying to figure all this out.

(Ed.: This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.)

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