Does North Carolina’s 9th congressional district race need a do-over? “This has shaken us to our core,” Dallas Woodhouse told CNN’s Drew Griffin earlier today. The state Republican Party’s executive director told Griffin that he vomited after watching the news reports about potential election fraud in two key counties involving a paid GOP operative and illegal “ballot harvesting.” If illegality is proven, Woodhouse tells Griffin, then the election has to be voided and a new election held:
Breaking: Executive Director of NC Republicans says he’s open to new election in NC-9 Congressional race. Dallas Woodhouse told CNN’s Drew Griffin he was so upset after watching CNN’s coverage of alleged fraud last night, he threw up, “this has shaken us to the core.”
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) December 6, 2018
NC GOP executive director in a complete about face. Dallas Woodhouse tells @CNN “substantial likelihood there needs to be a new election” in vote fraud plagued 9th Congressional race.
— Drew Griffin (@DrewGriffinCNN) December 6, 2018
“I think we have to let the board of elections come show their hand if they can show that this conceivably could have flipped the race in that neighborhood, we will absolutely support a new election.” …
Woodhouse defended Harris, calling him a “good man” and said there’s “no way he knew about this stuff and sanctioned it.” He also said it’s unlikely anyone will be seated to represent North Carolina’s 9th District when the new House is sworn in on January 3.
“We’re not ready to call for a new election yet,” Woodhouse added, but that’s still a long way from Woodhouse’s position nine days ago. At that time, the GOP chair demanded a quick certification before the Democratic majority on the election board could “unscrupulously order a new election on a party line vote.” Now that local reporters have dug up some of the people hired by Leslie McCrae Dowless and have them admitting illegal activity on camera, it’s a little tougher to cast this as simply a partisan power play. (Also, a finding of substantial fraud large enough to change the results would require a new election under state law anyway.)
It got worse last night, too. Until yesterday, the focus on illegal activity involved just the collection of ballots, more so than the high non-return rates from the counties Dowless worked on behalf of the Mark Harris campaign. Last night, Griffin reported that the ballot harvesting allegedly conducted by Dowless may have also involved the destruction of more than a thousand ballots. Others that had been harvested in unsealed ballots might have allowed Dowless’ operation to fill in the ballots themselves:
That makes hash out of Harris’ arguments that the reported irregularities don’t amount to enough votes to overcome his 905-vote lead. Until then, the media hadn’t focused too much on those possibilities, but that’s precisely why ballot harvesting is illegal in North Carolina. Furthermore, the suspiciously high non-return rates from Bladen (40%) and Robeson (62%) counties in a district where the overall non-return rate was 24% suggested all along that someone intercepted at least some of those ballots … which is, again, why ballot harvesting is illegal in North Carolina. And the fact that Harris managed to win a whopping 96% of all Bladen County absentee ballots that actually made it to election officials is a big red flag, too.
Woodhouse would be smart to call for a new election rather than insist on certification for Harris. As it stands, Dan McCready would certainly lodge a challenge in Congress before Harris gets seated, at which time this becomes the jurisdiction of the House and its majority party — Democrats. As I noted yesterday, the Constitution and the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969 gives the House a range of options in dealing with such a challenge, including ordering a new election or just flat-out certifying McCready as the winner and seating him instead of Harris.
Nancy Pelosi reminded everyone about the FDEA earlier today, too:
“The House still retains the right to decide who is seated,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “That is one of the powers of the House of Representatives. It controls who can be seated in the Congress.”
“Any member-elect can object to the seating, the swearing in, of another member-elect and we will see how that goes,” she said.
Election officials could certify the election, calling for a new election within 75 days or start the election from scratch, Mrs. Pelosi said.
Woodhouse probably won’t want to bet on “how that goes” with Pelosi in charge. The House likely can’t act on a challenge without having the state certify a winner; what would there be to challenge? That’s one reason the GOP would be better off if the state held a new election for NC-09 and resolved the defects on their own. A new election may well be the only way for the GOP to save this seat … if that’s possible after this debacle, even in a district with an R+8 Cook index.
Update: As I noted before, a new election might require a complete reboot of the primaries, too. Harris defeated incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger by an even narrower margin, and Pittenger told the party he smelled a rat:
Pittenger’s concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17.
In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions.
GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said.
Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes.
The NRCC denied that anyone raised the issue with them, but the red flags were there at the time.