Group asks North Carolina House to not seat Democrat

January 9, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A conservative Christian group asked the North Carolina House on Tuesday to delay seating a winning Democratic candidate from November because it says there are questions about mail-in absentee ballots in her extremely close race.

The North Carolina Values Coalition filed documents with the House clerk and Speaker Tim Moore on the eve of the start of the General Assembly’s two-year session. Winning candidates certified by local or state election officials — including Rep.-elect Rachel Hunt of Mecklenburg County — are supposed to join the legislature Wednesday.

But Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said the chamber shouldn’t seat Hunt, who defeated incumbent Republican Bill Brawley by 68 votes, “until it has thoroughly investigated this matter and determined which candidate won the most votes.”

The state constitution says the House shall judge “the qualifications and elections of its own members,” which means a House member likely would have to step in and attempt to protest the seating of Hunt, the daughter of former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt. Republicans won 65 of the 120 House seats in the fall.

The coalition says its sister research organization found more than 300 mail-in absentee ballots with date discrepancies between the signatures of voters and witnesses who see the ballot filled out. State law requires either two witnesses or a notary public to sign the absentee ballot envelope.

The group also provided nearly a dozen affidavits suggesting “irregularities,” including that some people requested ballots when they no longer lived in the House district, or that some witnesses signed envelopes when they had not been present to see the ballot being filled out.

AP Exclusive: Long before accusations of fraud cast doubt on a 2018 congressional election in North Carolina, a state investigator spent weeks probing whether man at center of current probe was among a group buying votes.Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer said the speaker didn’t have a comment on the allegations Tuesday night. There was no immediate response to a message left for Hunt through her campaign’s former spokesman.

In a news release, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin called the coalition’s request a “desperate, last-minute attempt to deny a seat to a lawfully-elected representative.”

White state law requires witness signatures, elections board attorney Josh Lawson said Tuesday that a date line on the envelope isn’t mandated by law. Rather, he said, staff members added the line this year to ballot envelopes as a way to help identify potential concerns.

In a memo last April, state elections board Executive Director Kim Strach cautioned against rejecting ballots simply because of date discrepancies, pointing out that dates for witnesses aren’t required and “that it is possible a witness may have simply written the wrong date.” Lawson said it’s also lawful for an actual witness to sign days after they saw the voter filling out the ballot.

The 103rd House District is within the 9th Congressional District, which isn’t being represented in the U.S. House right now because the state elections board last month declined to certify the election result due to mail-in absentee ballot irregularities, particularly in Bladen County. Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Fitzgerald’s group backs Harris.

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