North Carolina officials refuse to certify results of tight House race—and we don’t know why

Republican Mark Harris, left, and democrat Dan McCready, right, listen to instructions during a Habitat For Humanity building event in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Harris and McCready are running against each other for the 9th Congressional District. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Republican Mark Harris (left) and Democrat Dan McCready at a Habitat for Humanity event (Sept. 26, 2018).

In a shocking development, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, unanimously voted not to certify the results of the election for the state’s 9th Congressional District on Tuesday—and no one’s explained quite why. According to current tallies, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes, or 0.3 percent, making this the third-closest House race of 2018.

But whether that outcome holds up is now a huge question. One member of the board, Democrat Joshua Malcolm, offered only this cryptic statement:

“I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state. And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding which has been ongoing for a number of years that has repeatedly been referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys for them to take action and clean it up. And in my opinion those things have not taken place.”

Malcolm hails from Robeson County, which is located in the 9th District, but whatever problems may exist don’t seem to be coming from there. Rather, the chair of the county GOP, Phillip Stephens, offered on Tuesday, “We are not aware of any incidents specifically in Robeson. Our understanding is some questions were raised regarding Bladen County.”

Exactly what may have transpired in Bladen County, which is home to 35,000 people and appears to have voted 58-41 for Harris, is unknown. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, there’d been no reports of any issues, which is why the elections board’s action came as such a surprise, and neither campaign so far has issued any sort of comment. A local NPR station reports that an investigator for the board seized absentee ballots from Bladen shortly after Election Day, but it’s not clear why, and as election expert Michael McDonald notes, there weren’t enough absentee votes to change the outcome of the race.

McDonald thinks the board itself may wind up ordering a recount, even though McCready himself opted not to seek one (as was his right). But given the mystery surrounding the situation, it’s possible something much bigger is afoot: Gerry Cohen, a widely respected expert on North Carolina election law, says that Bladen County was, quite dramatically, “America’s arson capitol for decades as politicians burned down each other’s warehouses.” Yow!

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