Politics & Government

Democrat calls for 48 witnesses at state board hearing into election fraud in NC

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Election fraud investigation

Read more about the investigation into the 9th Congressional District

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The Democrat in North Carolina’s disputed 9th Congressional District election wants to subpoena nearly 50 witnesses for the state board of elections’ hearing scheduled for Jan. 11.

But state Republicans vowed to sue Gov. Roy Cooper if he tries to appoint Republican members to the interim board that would be tasked with holding that hearing.

Just another day in the wild 9th district.

Republican Mark Harris won an apparent victory by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready on Nov. 6, but the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement twice declined to certify the election citing voting irregularities among absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties. The nine-member board scheduled a hearing on Jan. 11, but a three-judge panel dissolved the board on Dec. 28, leaving no board in place at the moment for the potential hearing.

That didn’t stop a lawyer for McCready’s campaign from submitting a list Sunday of 48 potential witnesses, including a former worker for the National Republican Campaign Committee who Harris hired to be his chief of staff.

The McCready campaign was the only campaign to submit a list of witnesses to be subpoenaed, according to state board spokesman Patrick Gannon.

Cooper vowed to appoint five members to an interim board to deal with the investigation into the 9th. But Republicans on Sunday warned that Cooper does not have the authority to nominate and appoint members to the “interim” board and promised to sue if he tries. In a letter from John Lewis, a former state board member and now special counsel to the N.C. GOP, the party said only its state chairman Robin Hayes could nominate Republicans to serve on the board.

And Hayes has no interest in doing so until a new permanent board is created at the end of January. State lawmakers passed a bill in December — and overrode a veto by Cooper — establishing the new five-member board.

“Any attempt by the Governor to usurp the authority granted to Chairman Hayes as Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party will result in litigation,” Lewis wrote.

The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3, and the election in North Carolina’s 9th is unlikely to have been certified by then. Democratic leaders in the House, including incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, have indicated that they will not seat Harris when the new Congress convenes, leaving the district which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border without representation.

Harris defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary in May. But questions have come up about absentee ballot practices during the primary and general election, specifically around the work of Leslie McCrae Dowless, an elected official and political operative in Bladen County who was hired by Harris. The Washington Post has reported that Pittenger aides told Woodhouse and Foote that they believed absentee ballot fraud had occurred.

The list of witnesses requested by the McCready campaign ranges from Dowless to voters who may have been disenfranchised by his alleged absentee ballot scheme. It also includes Harris; his campaign manager, Jason Williams; and Andy Yates, the owner of Red Dome, the political consulting firm that employed Dowless.

Officials in the Bladen County, state and national GOP are named in the subpoena request: Hayes; Walter McDuffie, the Bladen County chair; Dallas Woodhouse, the state executive director; and Tyler Foote, who ran the southeast region for the National Republican Congressional Committee and who has since been hired by Harris to be his chief of staff.

Most of the staff at the Bladen County Board of Elections, as well as the county board chairman, are also on the list.

The request includes the names of more than dozen people believed to have been working for Dowless and about as many people who may have had their ability to vote tampered with in some way.

In its request, the McCready campaign asked that the witnesses on its list be compelled to appear at the Jan. 11 hearing, but not necessarily forced to testify. If the board compels testimony, that could lead to the witness’s immunity from criminal prosecution, the letter says.

“Our client respectfully suggests that summoned witnesses be afforded the opportunity to invoke their rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” McCready’s attorneys wrote.

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.
Carli Brosseau is a reporter at The News & Observer who often analyzes databases as part of her work. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.