By Jim Ellis
Dec. 12, 2018 — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/Asheville) being mentioned as a possible successor to outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly means that a special election would be called for western North Carolina if the congressman were to vacate his district. Should this come to pass, the state may be forced to host two congressional special elections but possibly under different rules.The 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border, is likely headed to a new vote since the state Board of Elections refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’ 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready due to election irregularities in one county.
Though the two potential elections could reasonably be held under the same schedule, the process parameters surrounding each are likely to be different.
If Rep. Meadows’ district opens, the special election will be run under traditional rules, meaning open partisan primaries and a general election once nominees are chosen. But, not so in the 9th District.
Under North Carolina law, should the Board of Elections declare the original election null and void after their investigation into the alleged irregularities concludes, a new special election would be a rerun of the 2018 general election, meaning the candidates would be Harris, McCready, and Libertarian nominee Jeff Scott.
Another process might come into play should the House of Representatives refuse to seat Harris, however. At this point, that scenario is likely because no candidate will be officially certified as the election winner when the new members are sworn into office.
If the House declares the 9th District seat vacant, which would be the case if they refuse to seat a representative, then a regular special election would be in order. This means the rules surrounding candidate eligibility would be the same as the potential special election in the 11th District. Thus, the partisan primaries would be open to all candidates, including Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte), who Harris ousted in the 2018 Republican primary back in May.
It would clearly be in the Democrats’ interest to cede authority to the Board of Elections, however, because that would cement a weakened Harris as the GOP nominee. Because campaign consultants that Harris employed are at the heart of the illegal ballot harvesting controversy, his favorability index has plunged, likely making him a severe underdog to McCready in any re-vote.
At the very least, Republicans would fight to obtain an open election where more candidates, including possibly Pittenger, would be allowed to run. The result of a contested primary could provide the party with a fresh nominee to give them a better chance of winning the special election campaign.
Therefore, part of the legal wrangling will be over election procedure as well as Republicans seeking a court ruling to force a certification of Harris under the argument that the irregular votes in question are not plentiful enough to change the original outcome result other than the victory margin.
Democrats would also benefit when Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is involved, the public official who will likely have the power to schedule the vote and presumably the system under which the election will be conducted.
The North Carolina congressional delegation is in a state of flux, to put it mildly, since so many questions are being posed without sufficient answers. If new elections become necessary, scheduling the primaries for late February with their related special general for late March would figure as a reasonable time frame.
Needless to say, much must happen in a very short period before we see if one or both of these potential elections will actually be scheduled, and how the 9th District campaign, the more likely of the two to require a re-vote at this writing, will be conducted.