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House Democrats prepare to probe disputed North Carolina election

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he could begin requesting documents between Mark Harris’ campaign and McCrae Dowless this month. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

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The investigations could be another avenue to an eventual special election in North Carolina’s 9th District.

House Democrats are preparing to launch their own investigations into the disputed congressional election in North Carolina, where Republican Mark Harris’ campaign is facing fraud allegations and the state elections board had refused to certify the results.

Harris’ campaign has sued in state court to be seated in Congress, despite an ongoing investigation by the elections board that suffered a setback when the board was dissolved at the end of 2018. Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial vote count, but voters and election workers have filed numerous affidavits detailing irregularities during the election, including reports that McCrae Dowless, a subcontractor for Harris’ campaign consultants, ran an operation that collected and marked voters’ absentee ballots.

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The House Democratic investigations could pave the way for a new election in the district, even if the court orders the board of elections to certify Harris as the winner instead of the board ordering a re-vote itself. The House Administration Committee, now controlled by Democrats, has the authority to call for another election after investigating the 2018 results.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who is slated to chair an election-focused subcommittee of the House Administration Committee, told POLITICO that the House will intervene if the North Carolina court ordered the election certified for Harris before the state investigation has concluded. Any House member could object to seating Harris and block him, triggering an investigation by Fudge’s committee.

Fudge said that three House panels — the Oversight, Judiciary and Administration committees — have started discussing the situation and will be meeting over the next week “to determine what all of our options are.”

“It is our hope that the courts in North Carolina would do the right thing,” Fudge said. “If they chose not to the right thing, or if for some reason he brings a certification here, we would challenge the propriety of seating him at that point until such time as there was a proper investigation done by the House.”

Fudge added that the full House could possibly go so far as to sue the state of North Carolina. If a judge orders that Harris be declared the winner, Fudge said, she is “confident that the House would bring an action against the state of North Carolina.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he could begin requesting documents “like paychecks, any kind of agreements” between Harris’ campaign and Dowless this month. Cummings, who now wields subpoena power in the majority, also threatened to call Dowless to Washington for an interview.

“It’s quite possible that we’ll want to bring in [Dowless],” Cummings said. “We’re certainly are looking at it very carefully.”

“When it comes to a state’s electoral process I think we have to be very careful and try to allow that state to provide due process. But at the same time we cannot just turn our heads to alleged voter fraud,” Cummings added. “It would be almost legislative malpractice if we fail to consider at least getting some preliminary information.”

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Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is expected to head an Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over the North Carolina matter, said to “stay tuned” for a hearing announcement.

If Harris does manage to get certified as the election winner, McCready — who initially conceded the race but has since withdrawn the concession and started preparations for a new election — could contest the certification, triggering a provision in the federal election law that would prompt an investigation by the Administration Committee.

Even if McCready didn’t contest the result and Harris showed up to Congress with certification papers demanding to be seated, any member could object by presenting a resolution, which would force a floor vote. At that point, Democrats expect they would have enough votes to send the matter to the House Administration Committee for investigation.

Back in North Carolina, the state election board plans to respond to Harris’ legal challenge by the Jan. 14 deadline imposed by the court for briefing statements. But the matter has been complicated by the dissolution of the board last week. New board members will not be seated until Jan. 31, meaning a hearing will likely take place no earlier than mid-February.

Harris and North Carolina Republicans argue that there isn’t enough public evidence proving the ballot irregularities were enough to swing outcome of the election.

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“We think that Mark Harris will at some point in the future be presenting a certificate of election from a certified race in North Carolina to Congress, because Mark Harris in fact won more legal votes, and after 60 some days a board of elections presented no evidence to show otherwise,” charged Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican party.

Susan Mills, the vice chair of the 9th District GOP, said Harris is “doing what’s necessary” by filing a petition with the court.

“The North Carolina GOP should challenge anything coming out of the Democratic-controlled House,” Mills said. “I wouldn’t do anything that Nancy Pelosi and her buddies wanted without challenging and without more information.”

Still, the North Carolina elections board is functioning at the staff level, carrying out interviews, including one with Harris. And it intends to continue the election fraud investigation regardless of any intervention by the state court.

“As a staff we want to conduct an evidentiary hearing at some point so that the public may fully understand what occurred in this election,” NCSBE spokesperson Patrick Gannon said when asked if a judicial certification would impact the investigation. “The agency remains steadfast in its obligation to ensure confidence in the elections process.”

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