Mark Harris’ lawyers file court docs asking judge to certify 9th District results

January 3, 2019

Lawyers for Republican Mark Harris on Thursday filed legal documents with Wake County Superior Court, asking that the results in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District November election be certified immediately and he be declared the winner despite a state investigation into the race.

A courier for the legal team representing Harris submitted a petition for a writ of mandamus to the court clerk’s office shortly after 9 a.m. A writ of mandamus is a court order for a government agency to fulfill its duties.

The filing by the Harris camp came on the same day that Democrats were to be sworn in as the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But the 9th District won’t have anyone in place when the U.S. House comes into session – or anyone in local offices to help resolve any problems constituents may have.

Harris had been the presumptive winner until the state opened an inquiry into the results of the election. Harris is expected to meet with state investigators today, staff at the State Board of Elections confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

“There is uncertainty of when a new State Board of Elections will be operational, when a new State Board of Elections may act, and whether a new State Board of Elections will continue to drag this out unnecessarily and outside of any statutory procedure, as the prior State Board had done,” David Freedman, a Winston-Salem attorney representing the Harris campaign, said in a news release.

State elections officials are looking into absentee ballot results in the 9th District race, particularly in Bladen and Robeson counties, where a Harris campaign operative allegedly sent people door to door to collect mail-in ballots.

The Harris interview has been highly anticipated, and Harris’ campaign has been under subpoena since Dec. 1. Investigators are waiting on him to produce some 140,000 documents in the inquiry. Board staff said all subpoenas remain legally effective despite the uncertainty with the board itself.

The state board also said Wednesday that a planned Jan. 11 hearing in the case will be postponed. A state court dissolved the board last week, and without members in place, staff can’t hold evidentiary hearings or finalize the election.

Gov. Roy Cooper blamed the North Carolina Republican Party for putting off the planned public hearing. Cooper had hoped to appoint a temporary board to hold the hearing after the courts dissolved the old one. But the state GOP declined to nominate anyone, prompting Cooper to say that the GOP may “obstruct an ongoing investigation into disturbing allegations of election fraud.”

The two major parties nominate members, whom the governor appoints. This structure has been the subject of almost two years legal wrangling between Cooper and the General Assembly’s Republican majority, and a panel of state judges found the board’s latest makeup unconstitutional in October.

The extra time the court provided to get the board through the November elections ran out Dec. 28, leaving no board to take its place until a new law that restructures the board takes effect Jan. 31. State GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement Wednesday that Cooper’s plans to seat a board before then would have been unlawful.

“Governor Cooper earns no gold stars for being embarrassed into following the letter of the law,” Hayes said in his statement.

Harris has said repeatedly that he did no wrong, but he has acknowledged bringing McCrae Dowless on board to run absentee operations in Bladen County. Affidavits and interviews point to Dowless as the center of a ballot-harvesting operation in the 9th District last year and in past elections as well.

Harris lost a close Republican primary for the 9th District seat in 2016, in part because Todd Johnson, who finished third, won 221 out of the 226 mail-in absentee ballots cast in Bladen County. Dowless worked for Johnson’s campaign that year.

In the 2018 primary, Harris won 437 of the 456 mail-in ballots cast in the county.

Harris has said he’s cooperating with state investigators, but Joshua Malcolm, the former chairman of the state elections board, sent his campaign a letter last Friday stating that investigators have been pushing for an interview for weeks. Malcolm also said the campaign hadn’t produced any documents since nearly 400 were provided Dec. 7, and that Harris’ legal team indicated there may be as many as 140,000 others relevant to the inquiry.

State board attorney Josh Lawson confirmed Wednesday that board staff, who are continuing their inquiry despite the board’s dissolution, have not received any further documents from the campaign since.

Dan McCready, the Democrat who seemed to lose the race to Harris, put a video out on social media Wednesday, before Harris’ interview was announced, accusing the Republican of breaking his promise to cooperate with investigators. His campaign is now represented by Marc Elias, a prominent attorney for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The McCready legal team has said it wants to the state board to subpoena 48 people to testify during the public hearing – whenever it is held.

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