RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 28, a three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court announced the state board of elections would dissolve at noon Friday, setting off 24 hours of turmoil for those involved with the investigation into election fraud in Southeastern North Carolina.
With less than 90 minutes to go before the North Carolina State Board of Elections is set to dissolve, both Governor Roy Cooper and Republican Mark Harris released their solutions to the problem.
Cooper released a letter he sent to the state political parties, indicating he plans to appoint a five-member subset of the current nine-member board to serve until Jan. 31, when House Bill 1029 takes effect.
Harris, on the other hand, filed an emergency petition with the state board asking members to certify his election to the ninth congressional district (NC9), before the board dissolves at noon.
Cooper’s letter came after a panel of three judges ruled it would not grant an extension for the current board past its original extension of Dec. 28. The court ruled in October that the nine-member make up, which was established in late 2016, is unconstitutional, and ordered the state legislature to come up with a solution.
The General Assembly voted to override Cooper’s veto of a bill that does just that. House Bill 1029 restores the board to its pre-2016 five-member make up, but makes some changes. The bill has the new board taking over on Jan. 31.
In his letter, Cooper says that with the concerns of election fraud in Bladen County and Robeson County, and pursuant to an advisory letter from the state attorney general’s office, he plans to appoint a new five-member board today, and indicated it is his preference to appoint the new members from the current board.
Cooper asked the respective parties to provide him a new list as soon as possible if the old list is unsavory.
The state Republican party issued a statement on Twitter indicating that they do not believe Cooper’s plan to be valid, and that the serving GOP members of the NCSBE plan to be finished with their duties as of noon Friday.
The North Carolina Democratric Party responded Friday afternoon with a statement of its own, saying: “Republicans are actively obstructing an investigation into electoral fraud, all to steal the election. This is alarming and unconscionable and a message to every North Carolina voter that it doesn’t matter if you were defrauded and your vote silenced, Republicans would rather have power than faithfully represent you.”
In his petition, Harris detailed the unofficial election results in the NC9 that have him leading Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes.
The petition says that the state board has not provided evidence to support the claims of absentee by mail ballot irregularities, and that the board should certify the election before it dissolves.
The NCGOP backed up Harris' petition with a press release, saying the candidate should take the matter to federal court if the board does not respond.
Harris’ campaign has been tied to the parties at the center of the board’s investigation: Red Dome Group, a political consulting firm, and McCrae Dowless, who has a history of accusations of election fraud.
However, minutes before the board dissolved, board chair Joshua Malcom sent a response to Harris' attorneys, effectively saying that to fulfill his request, there would need to be an emergency meeting of the board before noon, which was not called. Malcom said only two of the nine board members requested such a meeting.
Malcom’s letter goes on to say that the board has been producing evidence, but that the delay is the result of the parties, including Harris, not responding to the subpoena of documents quickly enough. The letter says the Harris campaign has produced just 398 pages of documents, but more than 140,000 could be applicable to the investigation. Additionally, the letter says the board asked Harris' attorneys if Harris would sit for an interview, but one has not been scheduled.
Harris' attorneys responded later on Friday saying that the request for that many documents during the holiday season was unreasonable.
In total, investigators have compiled 182,000 pages of documents in response to 12 subpoenas, and conducted 100 interviews in the case thus far.
Throughout the investigation that began on Nov. 30, Harris has maintained his innocence, saying that the board should certify the race so he can be seated on Jan. 3 when the new congress convenes.
Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has indicated the new Democratic majority will likely not seat Harris, and may conduct it’s own investigation if not call for a new election itself. The US House of Representatives has jurisdiction over who serves within the body.
On Friday afternoon, Democratic Whip of the U.S. House of Representative Steny Hoyer confirmed the house will not seat Harris if he is not certified, saying the investigation needs to continue.
The board said Friday morning it will continue releasing additional documents, and that despite the ruling, NCSBE staff are still working on collecting information in the investigation, as well as other elections matters.
Politcal party leaders continued making their opinions clear throughout the day Friday.
Republicans reiterated their support for Harris, and said they would not provide a list of candidates from which Cooper could appoint interim board members.
Cooper’s attorneys reportedly sent further communication to party leaders reiterating their position and request.
Democratic party leaders held a press conference late Friday afternoon, where chair Wayne Goodwin called the Republicans' efforts Friday an effort to “run out the clock.”
“Republicans have repeatedly tried to slow or derail attempts to get to the bottom of this wide-spread alleged fraud and election tampering," Goodwin said. "Now, with the statement that they’ve issued today, they have stepped off the ledge. Republicans are actively obstructing an investigation into electoral fraud, all to steal the election themselves.”
McCready’s campaign released a statement again demanding to know what Harris knew, and when he knew it.