On Friday at noon, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement officially dissolved under a court order, just two weeks before the evidentiary hearing over possible absentee ballot fraud in the November election for the Ninth District’s congressional seat.
Last month in the 2018 midterm elections, Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the district, appeared to defeat Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, by 905 votes. However, the elections board refused to certify the results after allegations surfaced that a contractor for Harris’s campaign illegally paid workers to go to voters’ homes and pick up their absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties. The board launched an investigation into the matter, which has already involved 100 interviews and at least 182,000 pages of records.
Due to the dissolution of the board, there’s a possibility that this highly-anticipated January 11 hearing about the lone remaining undecided seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will have to be postponed.
It’s important to note that the board is not being dissolved because of the allegations of election fraud. Earlier this year, a three-judge panel ordered that the current make-up of the board — a combined nine-person election and ethics board — is unconstitutional, and ordered that the board must revert to a five-person election board and an eight-person ethics board.
The dissolution of the board had been delayed a couple of times, but on Thursday night, the three-judge panel rejected another request for an extension, to the shock of many officials in both parties.
Upon the ruling, Harris issued an emergency petition for the board to certify his election results, but they did not heed it before the noon deadline.
So, what happens now? According to Josh Lawson, the board’s general counsel, board staffers can continue to work on the investigation, but they will not be permitted to issue subpoenas, conduct hearings, or officially call for a new election until a new board is in place, according to CNN. That’s a significant “but,” especially considering Harris was reportedly struggling to cooperate with the board’s subpoenas even when it had power. (State Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse, for his part, has claimed Harris is fully cooperating with the board’s requests.)
The law says that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) must appoint a new board. However that law does not go into effect until January 31. In the meantime, Cooper has ordered state Republican and Democratic parties to nominate members to serve on an interim elections board, so the investigation and hearing about election fraud can continue as planned, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The North Carolina GOP party plans to fight that plan, alleging that Cooper does not have the authority to appoint an interim board.
On Friday, Woodhouse tweeted that Republicans “will not accept appointments” to the “Kangaroo Cooper Election Court.”
— Dallas Woodhouse (@DallasWoodhouse) December 28, 2018
North Carolina GOP chairman Robin Hayes also issued a statement urging Harris to take his fight to the federal court. “I look forward to being in Washington, D.C. on January 3rd to see Mark take the oath of office,” he said.
It is highly unlikely that any representative from North Carolina’s Ninth District will be sworn in along with the rest of Congress on January 3. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), vying for the speakership once more, has already said she won’t seat Harris unless his victory is certified by North Carolina.
If the election remains un-certified next week, and the board of elections is still vacant, the new Democrat-led House could launch its own investigation into the matter, via the House Administration Committee. According to The New York Times, that committee has the authority to investigate the election, issue subpoenas, determine a winner, or even call for a new election, if deemed necessary.