The 116th Congress will be sworn in Thursday, but the seat for North Carolina's 9th District remains empty for now.
During the Nov. 6 election, Republican Mark Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready, Trinity '05, by fewer than 1,000 votes—out of more than 280,000 cast—for the southern North Carolina district's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Allegations of election fraud soon emerged and stalled the certification of the results, and investigation into the election continues as other members of the new Congress are sworn in.
Aside from the ongoing query into the Harris-McCready race, five Duke alumni—four are incumbents—will be sworn in as members of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress after winning their November races.
The North Carolina Board of Elections delayed certifying Harris as the winner of the election in late November, citing “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots." The Associated Press retracted its call of the race.
The allegations include voters in rural Bladen County being asked to turn in their mail-in ballots by people who came to their doors, or receiving absentee ballots they had not requested.
A News and Observer analysis of absentee ballots in the district found that 24 percent of the requested ballots in the district were not returned. The analysis also showed that in Robeson County, 75 percent of ballots requested by African Americans—as well as 69 percent requested by Native Americans—were unreturned. The numbers in Bladen County for those groups "generally reflected the district-wide figures," according to the N&O.
"The board does have the power to order a new election in the affected districts," Mac McCorkle, professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, told The Chronicle in December.
Judges abruptly dissolved the board that was set to hold the hearing for the case, and Gov. Roy Cooper is currently in a battle with state Republican legislators over appointing members to an interim board that would hold the evidentiary hearing concerning the issue.
While the State Board of Elections continues to find a path forward, Harris reportedly attended new member orientation for Congress and participated in the lottery related to choosing offices.
“Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties," Harris said in a statement. "But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race."
McCready has posted about the alleged fraud on Twitter and solicited donations in case a new election is called.
"At the end of the day, the election fraud we’re seeing in #NC09 isn’t about one election, it’s bigger than that," he wrote Dec. 15. "This is about protecting our democracy from those who would twist it to serve their own ambition."
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McCready has already submitted a list of nearly 50 witnesses he wanted to appear at a hearing that had been scheduled for Jan. 11, according to the News and Observer.
In a news release Wednesday afternoon, Patrick Gannon—public information officer for the State Board of Elections—stated that the investigation into the irregularities continues, but that the hearing scheduled for Jan. 11 has been postponed because only seated state board members can hold evidentiary hearings.
“State Board staff will continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads as part of this investigation,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, in the release. “This agency remains steadfast in its obligation to ensure confidence in the elections process.”