By Jim Ellis
Dec. 6, 2018 — Two House races are still not finalized, with one possibly headed for a new election. In California, action is still not complete now almost a month after Election Day. Democrat T.J. Cox leads Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) by 843 votes in the 21st District with an undetermined number of ballots remaining to be counted. It does appear that Cox will be declared the winner, but the election officials actually doing finalizing the race still have not done so.
In North Carolina, the state Board of Elections has blocked certifying Republican Mark Harris’ victory over Democratic businessman Dan McCready in the state’s open 9th District. The seat went to open status after the North Carolina primary in May when Harris, formerly a Baptist pastor, upset Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the Republican primary.
Ironically, a practice referred to as “ballot harvesting” appears to be at the heart of the California political overtime races and this one suspended result in North Carolina. Ballot harvesting is the act of an individual gathering absentee ballots from voters, bundling them together, and turning them over to election officers for counting purposes. In California, ballot harvesting is now legal. In North Carolina, it is not.
In the Golden State, the Valadao district is the last to turn. In five other seats, all Republican held, the GOP candidate led through Election Day and mail counting, only to see the tables turn when provisional ballots were added. Statewide, almost 2 million votes were in this category, so an average of approximately 35,000 such votes were present in most congressional districts.
The provisional ballots, according to the California Secretary of State’s office, are votes cast by individuals not on the registration rolls or from people who received a mail ballot but decided to vote in person. The outlined procedure calls for the local elections’ office to verify the provisional ballots before counting them. Many of the absentee-type votes were submitted through the ballot harvesting process.
The North Carolina Board of Elections membership, under scrutiny themselves because a state court has already declared the panel’s composition to be unconstitutional, is supposed to be dissolved Dec. 12 after being granted an original extension. But, the board has scheduled another hearing on the NC-9 situation for Dec. 21, and is actively conducting an investigation over what the board vice chairman originally declared as “voting irregularities.” It is now coming to light that the referred to problems revolve around ballot harvesting incidents.
Currently, two other investigations are simultaneously underway. In addition to the Board of Elections probe, the FBI is now involved, as is the Wake County district attorney. Though Wake County is nowhere near the location of the alleged violations in Bladen County, the tri-county DA in the actual area of jurisdiction referred the case to Wake because, he indicated, much of the questionable process began in Raleigh. It is also probable that the smaller rural county area prosecution office has far less of a budget for an investigation of this type, hence his desire to involve a larger and more experienced office and staff, which has more in the way of implementation funds.
The state board has the power to order a new election if they do not ultimately certify the Harris victory. Additionally, the House itself, under Democratic Party control on Jan. 3, has the power to seat each member. Without an official state-issued certificate of election, it is a foregone conclusion that the House will not seat Harris, thus declaring the seat vacant.
If the board orders a new election, the contest will be among only Harris and McCready, along with Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott. If the House were to declare the seat vacant, a special election would be scheduled, meaning a primary and general election process would begin anew and be open to anyone choosing to run.
It is unclear whether the board can declare ballots void, and thus throw the election another candidate, in this case McCready. It is possible, however, that a court could do such. Therefore, it appears this race will require a long period of time to ultimately decide. For their part, Republican officials are calling for certification now, saying that the number of tainted ballots is not enough to overturn the outcome. The uncertified final count gives Harris a 905-vote victory.