The new 116th Congress that was sworn in Thursday arrived one member short, with a House seat in North Carolina still up the air amid allegations of vote-tampering that have left the November race still without a declared winner.
Instead of taking the oath as a new House member, Republican candidate Mark Harris met with election board investigators in the state capital of Raleigh, where he and two of his lawyers answered questions about an alleged scheme by a campaign operative to illegally collect absentee ballots.
“It’s during this hour [that] my 434 colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives will raise their hand and take the oath of office and be seated. I’m the one seat remaining of the 435 to be seated,” Mr. Harris told reporters afterward.
The Nov. 6 election results showed Mr. Harris beating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of more than 280,000 cast in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
The election board, however, refused to certify the results after reports surfaced of a scheme to collect and possibly alter or destroy absentee ballots. The scheme was linked to the Harris campaign, and Mr. McCready subsequently retracted a statement conceding the race to his opponent.
An investigation was launched and the political crisis that resulted has left North Carolina officials with no clear path forward for sending a representative to Congress.
House Democratic leaders say a new election was in order but neither Congress nor the state election board has made the call.
Mr. Harris, in turn, filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to certify the Nov. 6 results that would send him to Washington. The filing argues that state elections officials have presented no evidence that the questionable votes “are sufficient in number” to alter the election.
“I should be certified,” said Mr. Harris, a former Baptist pastor with a doctorate of ministry degree. “We don’t believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election.”
If Mr. Harris’ lawsuit fails, the 9th District seat could remain empty until at least February — and possibly as late as June — if a do-over election is ordered.
Adding to the turmoil, a state court dissolved the election board last Friday, which resulted in the cancellation of a planned Jan. 11 hearing on the case.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, blamed North Carolina Republicans for the new impasse, saying the state GOP refused to appoint any representatives to a proposed temporary board to hold the hearing.
Mr. Cooper could have appointed all the temporary board members but said he wanted to avoid the appearance of a one-party board.
“If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it — regardless of whether the candidate who finished ahead in a tainted election is a Republican or a Democrat,” Mr. Cooper 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 newly installed Democratic House majority in Washington could provide Mr. McCready more time and space to pursue his challenge.
“Given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in NC-09, Democrats would object to any attempt by Mr. Harris to be seated on January 3,” said new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, last week 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.”
But State GOP Chairman Robin Hayes questioned the legality of a temporary board to decide the disputed election.
He said the lawsuit was the best available resolution.
“We tried to give the now-defunct Democrat-led State Board of Elections the benefit of the doubt, that they were looking for the truth,” Mr. Hayes said. “The constant delays, the lack of substantial public evidence, and the violation of the court order — combined with Gov. Cooper’s attempt to create a sham kangaroo election board — shows no good faith is justified.”
“Dr. Harris won,” he added. “He should be certified and begin representing the [district] in Congress and all criminal investigations should continue via local, state and federal prosecutors.”