Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Friday that Democrats next week will not seat a North Carolina Republican amid allegations of election fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
“Given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in NC-09, Democrats would object to any attempt by (Mark) Harris to be seated on January 3,” Hoyer said in a statement. “In this instance, the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress.”
The statement came after North Carolina dissolved its elections board Friday without certifying the Nov. 6 results, leaving the fate of the seat in doubt days ahead of the start of the new Congress.
David B. Freedman, an attorney for Harris, said the Republican has cooperated with the investigation and “looks forward to this matter coming to a resolution as quickly as possible, so that he may serve the people of the 9th Congressional District as he was elected to do.”
In a statement to WSOC-TV in Charlotte, Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, expressed confidence that Harris would be on Capitol Hill soon.
“We believe Mark Harris is the duly elected Congressman Elect and will be certified and seated sooner rather than later,” he said.
Earlier, he told CNN: “Mr. Harris got more legal votes … He should be certified and he should go to Congress.”
The decision by House Democrats comes weeks after allegations of fraud led the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics to refuse to certify the results of the election.
House Democrats are poised to take control of the chamber next week, and the House has the express constitutional authority to judge the “elections, returns and qualifications” of its members.
The fight over the seat adds to the drama of the first day of the new Congress as the House elects a speaker and lawmakers are sworn in. The government shutdown likely will remain unresolved that first week, a more pressing priority for leadership.
The election board has been central to the probe into election fraud that has roiled North Carolina and drawn national attention for weeks and deprived Harris of a victory over Democrat Dan McCready, whom he apparently defeated by a little more than 900 votes.
In affidavits to the board, voters alleged various types of election-related impropriety. Some said that their absentee ballots had been collected by strangers, an illegal practice known as “ballot harvesting.”
Reports in local and national media implicated a Republican operative who had been working on behalf of Harris’s campaign. The operation is now the subject of multiple investigations.
Harris has said he had no knowledge of any fraud, and said he supports an investigation. However, he has argued that the election results should be certified in the meantime. “The State Board should not deprive the citizens of the 9th District of their right to representation,” he said in a filing to the state elections board Friday.
But his demand was complicated by the fact that the elections board disbanded at noon Friday – the result of a longrunning partisan fight.
A new board is to be seated Jan. 31.
It remains unclear whether there will be an interim board of elections to serve between now and Jan. 31.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Friday that he intends to appoint a temporary five-member board, but Republicans have decried the idea of an interim panel as “unconstitutional” and a “sham.”
An elections board hearing on the race had been scheduled for Jan. 11, after which the panel could decide whether to certify the election, call a new election or take some other course of action. The fate of that hearing is now in doubt.
In a statement Friday, Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for McCready, accused Harris of trying to short-circuit the investigation.
“It has become abundantly clear that North Carolinians had their voices silenced during the election in North Carolina’s Ninth District,” he said. “Mark Harris and his allies promised to support a complete investigation into this attack on our democracy. He has now broken this promise and is instead doing all he can to obstruct this bipartisan investigation.”
Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, called Republicans’ behavior “shocking” and accused them of “trying to steal” a congressional seat.
“This is purely obstruction of an ongoing investigation … This investigation needs to continue,” Goodwin said.