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N.C. Congressional Seat In Limbo As Voter Fraud Investigation Continues


It's now been almost two months since the November general election. But in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, there is still no winner, as the state board of elections investigates allegations of election fraud by a Republican operative. And a ruling this past week by a three-judge panel has created even more chaos in the disputed race. Joining me to talk about this never-ending election is Steve Harrison of member station WFAE in Charlotte. Steve, remind us again what the state board is investigating.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: So in late November, Republican Mark Harris was ahead of Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. And everyone assumed the race was over. All the state elections board had to do was certify the race, which should've been a mere formality. But the board didn't do that. And for the last month, it's been investigating whether a political operative working for Harris named McCrae Dowless illegally collected absentee ballots in Bladen County. And there's a lot of evidence through media and interviews and the state board itself that Dowless did that to a great extent. The big day was going to be January 11. That's when the state elections board was going to hold a public hearing in the case and lay out all of its evidence. And after that, it would either declare Harris the winner or call for a new election.

FADEL: But I understand everything changed this week. What happened? And how does it impact the investigation?

HARRISON: So in North Carolina, there has been an unrelated legal fight over the makeup of the state elections board. And a three-judge panel had previously said that this current elections board, which was created by Republicans, is unconstitutional. That board was planning to stay intact and finish this investigation through January. But the same judge has said, you can't do that. They chided the board for taking so long to hold that public hearing and said the 9th District deserves to have a winner. So they dissolved the entire board as of noon Friday. So right now you have a situation where the elections board staff is still investigating. But there's no one really in charge who can make a decision. So we don't even know what's going to happen at the January 11 hearing or if there'll even be one.

FADEL: And after that ruling, both sides really turned up their rhetoric. What were they saying?

HARRISON: So they did. And after this ruling, both sides have kind of really lost their patience. And they started hurling insults at each other. Harris, the Republican, he demanded that the elections board immediately certify him as the winner on Friday morning and - in the board's last hours before being dissolved. He also questioned in a radio interview whether the elections board had a - his words - "sinister motive" on blowing the whistle on the absentee mail fraud after he won instead of earlier in the year. And that's been a common theme among Republicans. The election board is bipartisan. But the GOP feels the Democrats on the board didn't really care about possible fraud in Bladen County until it impacted their candidate. And the other side, the Democrats have been on the offensive for a long time. They've been hammering Harris for hiring McCrae Dowless.

FADEL: And Congress has not weighed in. Is that right?

HARRISON: Before, they have kind of said they were going to take a wait-and-see attitude on whether they would seat Harris. But yesterday, the incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said no, that we are not going to seat him because, of course, the Democrats take over the House. And they said while this investigation is pending, he won't be seated. So even if Harris is somehow certified, he apparently has nowhere to go, at least for now.

FADEL: So with no elections board, what happens next?

HARRISON: The Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has said he wants to create a temporary, five-member board until a new certified board comes on line January 31. That would presumably let the January 11 hearing go on as scheduled. But Republicans don't think that's legal. And they've said they won't participate in any temporary board. So this whole thing could stretch well into 2019.

FADEL: That's reporter Steve Harrison in Charlotte. Thanks for speaking with us.

HARRISON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.