NC-9: Certification Problems

By Jim Ellis

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris

Nov. 30, 2018 — The North Carolina Board of Elections has failed to certify Republican Mark Harris’ victory in the open 9th Congressional District, action that may initiate a long legal battle.

Board Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm (D) objected to certifying Harris’ 905-vote victory over businessman Dan McCready (D) from 282,717 total votes cast. The seat was open after Harris, a Baptist former pastor and ex-US Senate and congressional candidate, defeated Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the May Republican primary.

Malcolm cited “irregularities” in Republican Bladen County, an entity that Harris carried by 1,557 votes, obviously more than his district-wide margin, as his reasoning to the other board members as to why the result should be at least temporarily suspended.

The 9th District begins in Mecklenburg County and then travels down the South Carolina border to the Fayetteville area. It includes five complete counties and parts of three others including Mecklenburg and Bladen. Harris carried only Union County and Bladen’s 9th District section, but his margins were large enough in these two places to overcome McCready’s advantage in the other six local entities.

The North Carolina Board of Elections (BoE) is a nine-member panel that has been at the center of controversy between Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican legislature. After Cooper defeated then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the legislators passed a series of bills that limited some of the governor’s power. One of the measures involved changing how the Board of Elections’ membership was appointed.

The new procedure, which is responsible for the current board composition, empowered the legislature to provide the governor a list of prospective members, six Republicans and six Democrats, of which the chief executive would choose four Republicans and four Democrats. The ninth member, who could belong to neither party, would be chosen by the eight board members after accepting their own appointments. The board would submit two individuals’ names to the governor for the final position, from which he would choose one.

Raleigh attorney Andy Penry (D) is the chairman of the board and Malcolm, who previously served on the state elections’ board and is general counsel to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Board of Trustees and an ex-justice of the Lumbee Indian Supreme Court of North Carolina, is the vice chairman. Republican Ken Raymond, the Forsyth County Elections Board chairman, is the panel’s secretary.

The remaining members are either attorneys or county elections’ officers. One Republican member, John Lewis, is the legal counsel to the North Carolina Republican Party.

The Independent member, chosen by Gov. Cooper from a list of two, is Damon Circosta, the executive director of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, a grant-donating body for North Carolina charity organizations which supports education programs, the elderly, and media and communication projects.

Circosta, originally hailing from Arizona, who also lived in California and Hawaii and spends part of the year in Walloon Lake, Michigan, worked in the Obama for President campaign and also interned for the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in his younger days. Gov. Cooper chose him as the BoE’s Independent member over former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, an appointee of former Gov. Jim Hunt (D).

The BoE now will investigate the situation in Bladen County in an attempt to certify the election. It is unknown how long the outcome will remain in political limbo. The Board certified the winner of the state’s other 12 congressional races. The members have the power to order a new election if it determines that too many voting irregularities skewed the outcome.

The North Carolina Republican Party’s Executive Director, Dallas Woodhouse, said “we think [the board of elections] have abused their discretion and violated the statute,” and further suggested that the final decision upholding Harris’ victory would likely come from a court. Neither the Harris nor McCready campaign commented upon the board’s decision.

If Woodhouse’s prediction is true, then this process could consume a long period and places in doubt whether the 9th District will have a representative sworn into the 116th Congress when the body convenes on Jan. 3, 2019. Obviously, this is a story that will continue to develop.

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