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Congressman calls for hearings over 9th District results

December 6, 2018

A Democrat on a key U.S. House committee called Wednesday for a congressional hearing on North Carolina’s disputed 9th Congressional District election results.

Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly said an emergency hearing should be held this session, with Republicans still in control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Connolly is one of the senior Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“Votes have been stolen by preying on senior and minority voters, and now a cloud of doubt and suspicion hangs over this election result,” Connolly said in a statement.” “It is incumbent on Chairman (Trey) Gowdy to hold an emergency hearing before the end of this congressional session so that we can shed light and understand what happened in this race.”

It’s unclear whether votes have been stolen. But what is clear is that there was at least one ballot harvesting operation in the 9th District, which went door to door taking mail-in absentee ballots from voters in Bladen County, and possibly in other counties as well.

It seems to have been run by a long-time local operative, McCrae Dowless, who was once a Democrat but worked this past cycle for a consultancy called Red Dome, which in turn worked for Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris’ campaign.

Harris won over Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

The operation seems to have targeted senior citizens and minority voters, leaving “a cloud of doubt and suspicion” hanging over the result, Connolly said.

What happened to the ballots Dowless’ operation collected is not always clear, but both Bladen and Robeson counties had unusually high numbers of mail-in ballots that were requested but never returned to election officials.

In at least some cases, though, people whose ballots were taken ended up voting in person.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has voted twice, in bipartisan decisions, not to finalize the results of the 9th District election and to hold its own public hearing between now and Dec. 21. In the interim, board staff is investigating.

The board could potentially call for a new election.

Connolly’s call for a congressional hearing is big news, according to Gerry Cohen, a long-time North Carolina legislative and elections attorney, because it makes congressional action more likely.

Though it’s up to the state to handle any initial challenge to the election results, the U.S. House of Representatives has final say over who is seated. Democrats will control the House when a new Congress takes over in January; Republicans control it now.

Incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said this week that his caucus would oppose seating Harris in the next Congress until questions about the election are resolved.

Calls to Gowdy’s Washington office were not immediately answered Wednesday. Harris has called on the state board to certify the race despite the investigation, saying there aren’t enough votes in question to change the outcome.

The North Carolina Republican Party has said much the same thing.

Connolly said every action Republicans “take to ignore this situation” should be seen as “a slap in the face to all voters in North Carolina who participated in the 2018 election with the expectation that every vote would be counted.”

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