North Carolina Republicans said Tuesday that a new election would be necessary in the state's 9th Congressional District if investigators can verify a local newspaper report that early voting results in Bladen County were leaked before Election Day.
Republican Mark Harris appeared to emerge as the narrow winner over Democrat Dan McCready on Election Day but subsequent revelations of fraud surrounding absentee ballots in two counties have Democrats and Republicans, who also might have seen their primary marred by similar irregularities, openly discussing the prospect of launching a second vote.
Here's a look at where things currently stand.
GOP candidate Mark Harris
We haven't heard much from Harris. The GOP candidate has released only one pre-recorded statement since the revelations related to McCrae Dowless, the political operative paid by his campaign, were revealed. The situation has become increasingly difficult for North Carolina Republicans, and they know it. While no prominent Republican in North Carolina have publicly distanced themselves from Harris, behind the scenes it is a different story. The party would at least like the option of replacing Harris if a new election is necessary. That is one of the reasons that the GOP-controlled State Legislature added language in a broader bill on elections that included a provision that would require a new primary in the event a second election is necessary. While the GOP can make plans for a post- Harris world, make no mistake it is Harris and Harris alone that controls his destiny. If he wants to stay in the race he can. Despite GOPers quietly grumbling about how he could sink their chances of holding the seat, he has shown no signs of going anywhere.
Harris and Dowless ties continue to emerge
The main reason Republicans are in a tight spot is because with each passing day it is becoming more difficult for Harris to reasonably make the argument that he had absolutely no knowledge of the Dowless operation. An associate of Dowless, Jeffery Smith, told CNN that he personally witnessed Dowless and Harris meeting in a satellite campaign office in Bladen County. Smith also said that Dowless told him he met with Harris on a regular basis. Harris has yet to change his position that he did not know anything about what Dowless was up to. If evidence continues to emerge that directly contradicts that claim it will make it that much more difficult for Harris to win a second election.
If a new election happens, when will it happen?
The short answer is -- it could be a while. On Wednesday, the State Board of Elections sent a letter to the 10th Judicial District Court overseeing a stay that keeps the board in its current form while it investigates the claims in the 9th Congressional District. Lawmakers in North Carolina are in the process of overhauling the board's make-up, but the court has extended their current composition through at least December 28. In this new letter, the board chairman Joshua Malcom writes the "disputes and uncertainty about the board's clear authority between December 28 and January 31 will substantially disrupt our efforts." Malcom asks the three-judge panel to allow them to continue their work until they make a final determination on how to handle the situation in the 9th District. That shows us they have a lot more work to do and that the work may not be done before Christmas and could extend into the New Year. While both Republicans and Democrats seem convinced a new election is necessary, it is the board that will make the final call, and they seem to need a lot more time to make that determination.