U.S. lawmaker cites 'real fraud' in North Carolina race, demands hearing

(Reuters) - A Democratic U.S. congressman on Wednesday called for an emergency hearing into claims of fraud in a North Carolina election, where the state is probing alleged improper handling of ballots by political operatives.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump greets Mark Harris, Republican candidate from North Carolina's 9th Congressional district, in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Almost a month after Republican Mark Harris declared victory in his North Carolina race for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the state’s election board is declining to certify the result as it investigates mail-in ballots from two rural counties that have been called into question.

If evidence of fraud is uncovered, North Carolina’s board of elections could order a new vote. The U.S. House could also rule on the election outcome.

Democratic U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on Wednesday called for an emergency congressional hearing into the matter, accusing national Republicans including President Donald Trump of hypocrisy for ignoring the case after years of claiming voter fraud without evidence.

“While the Republican majority is once again chasing conspiracies, real election fraud is playing out right before us in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District,” Connolly said in a statement. He said that minority and elderly voters appeared to have been targeted, and “a cloud of doubt and suspicion hangs over this election result.”

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that large numbers of illegal immigrants have cast ballots and raised the specter of voter fraud after the Nov. 6 elections.

Leading House Democrat Steny Hoyer on Tuesday said his party may not seat Harris if the election remains in question when Democrats take control of the lower chamber in January.

Democrats gained enough seats in the Nov. 6 elections to take control of the House, while Republicans expanded their Senate majority.

Based on an initial tally, Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. That was before residents of rural Bladen County provided affidavits that people came to their homes and collected absentee ballots that they had not filled in.

It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

The state elections board this week issued subpoenas to the Harris campaign and the political consulting group that employed a political operative to collect the ballots, board spokesman Patrick Gannon said.

Local television station WSOC interviewed two women who said they were paid to collect absentee ballots for the operative.

Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Los Angeles; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler