North Carolina's election board voted again Friday to delay certification of the election results in the 9th Congressional District amid allegations of irregularities and possible criminal activity with absentee ballots, a move that could potentially lead to a call for a new election.
The 7-2 vote from the bipartisan board gives its lawyers and investigators less than a month to further examine allegations of improper activities that have been filed with the board, at least one of which claims an unidentified woman filled out an absentee ballot for a voter.
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Should evidence be found of voter fraud, that could change the outcome of the 905-vote margin between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, the board could potentially call for a new election.
McCready conceded the race to Harris the day after the election earlier in November, but the state Democratic Party has filed affidavits with the board of voters purporting there were potential illegal activities.
One affidavit filed by the Democratic Party alleges Republican McCrae Dowless, who has a history of being accused of improper voter activity in Bladen County, could financially benefit from handling absentee ballots for the Harris campaign. Dowless is also alleged to have claimed he had 80 people working for him on two races, including the 9th District. Another affidavit alleged Dowless said he'd receive a $40,000 bonus if Harris won the election.
CNN's attempts to reach Dowless for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
"I move that in light of claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee by mail ballots and potentially other matters in Congressional District 9, the state board hold, as then constituted, an evidentiary hearing on or before December 21," Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm proposed in the vote. "... To assure that the election is determined without taint or fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of the election."
The board met Tuesday to certify results from the November 6 election. The 9th Congressional District was among the races the board unanimously voted not to certify then. As the board reconvened its open session Friday morning, it immediately voted to adjourn to a closed session to consult with its legal counsel about potential criminal activities.
The board reconvened publicly hours later and voted to withhold certification.
Harris was one of two Republicans to beat incumbents during the GOP primaries this year. He beat three-term Rep. Robert Pittenger by 828 votes. Election watchers pointed to his substantial absentee lead back then in Bladen County, where the investigation is currently focused.
"We applaud the board's bipartisan decision to delay certification and fully investigate the concerning allegations in the 9th Congressional District," said Wayne Goodwin, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. "North Carolina voters deserve to know the truth and their voices deserve to be heard."
The state Republican Party called for the board chairman to be removed.
"The lack of information from shameless Democrat partisan NCSBE Chairman Andy Penry makes this entire debacle difficult to grasp," said Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.
Hayes pointed to an editorial in The Charlotte Observer and said, "Every once in a blue moon, we agree with The News & Observer's editorial board: Penry should resign."
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