Top officials with the North Carolina Republican Party said they believe early vote totals in Bladen County were leaked before the election and, if confirmed, “a new election is appropriate” in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer reported Monday that early voting totals from Bladen County may have been leaked. Documents released by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement show that early voting tabulations were run several days before the Nov. 6 election in Bladen County. A witness who signed that vote tabulation wrote in a sworn affidavit that the totals were “viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges.”
“We are pretty certain that happened. And if it is confirmed, a new election is appropriate,” said Dallas Woodhouse, the party’s executive director, in a late afternoon press conference. “It is key because it tells you what the electorate is looking like, what the turnout is looking like. If that information was leaked out, it clearly is a competitive advantage.”
Woodhouse did not reveal what evidence he has seen.
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Woodhouse’s comments echoed a statement released earlier in the day by Robin Hayes, the party’s chairman.
“This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for. The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election,” Hayes said.
The state board is investigating voter irregularities in the 9th district. Republican Mark Harris topped Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the board has yet to certify the election amid allegations of fraud with mail-in absentee ballots. The board plans to hold a hearing before Dec. 21.
A three-judge panel ruled on Tuesday that the current nine-member board can remain in place until Dec. 28 or until the November elections are certified, whichever is first.
The state board has issued subpoenas to the Harris campaign, Harris’ top consulting firm Red Dome Group and the campaign of Sheriff Jim McVicker. The board has identified McCrae Dowless, who was paid by Red Dome Group, as a person of interest in its investigation. Dowless has been accused in affidavits and in press interviews of paying workers to collect absentee ballots in Bladen County.
The board has the authority to order a new election with the same general election candidates on the ballot — Harris, McCready and Libertarian Party candidate Jeff Scott.
Woodhouse said the party is “not ready to address” whether or not a special election should include a new primary. Harris defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in May’s primary, a race that also had voting irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots.
But Republican officials do have a strong opinion on who should be in charge of the special election.
“State elections officials must take over all the elections in Bladen County if and when there is a special election,” Woodhouse said, again echoing a call by Hayes.
“The professionals at the State Board of Elections must assume control of the county board of elections operations in Bladen County, which has shown itself incapable of managing fair elections,” Hayes said.
The current investigation is, at least, the fifth investigation into Bladen County elections since 2010.
Jens Lutz, the vice chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, resigned Friday. Lutz is a Democrat.
“This, and the resignation of (Lutz) after the inquiry began, further represents the systematic failure of the election process in this area of the state going on for at least the last decade,” Hayes said.