December 4, 2018 / 7:33 PM / 5 days ago

Democrat threatens not to seat Republican in North Carolina vote dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives may decide not to seat a North Carolina Republican currently embroiled in a voter fraud controversy after they take control in January, a top Democrat said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Mark Harris, Republican candidate from North Carolina's 9th Congressional district speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump and Ted Budd, Republican candidate from North Carolina's 13th district look on during a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Representative Steny Hoyer, who will take on the powerful role of House majority leader next month, told reporters that if there was “a very substantial question on the integrity of the election” Democrats would oppose seating Republican Mark Harris until the matter is resolved, according to a transcript of Hoyer’s remarks provided by his office.

Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the Nov. 6 congressional election. But the validity of hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots from a rural county has been called into question, and the state elections board declined to certify Harris while it investigates fraud claims.

It is the second time in as many years the board has considered voter fraud accusations in Bladen County.

Harris has asked the state’s board of elections to certify his victory while it carries out the investigation.

If North Carolina authorities find sufficient evidence of fraud to cast doubt on the Nov. 6 result, they could order a new election.

CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY

Hoyer said the House has the constitutional authority to rule on the propriety of the election and decide whether Harris could take his seat, should the controversy drag on.

The House Administration Committee can investigate elections and make recommendations, including calling for a new vote.

The North Carolina Democratic Party said Bladen County residents made sworn affidavits that individuals came to their homes and collected absentee ballots that they had not filled in, saying they would do it for them.

Local television station WSOC interviewed two women who said they were paid by elections consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless to collect absentee ballots and deliver them to him. Dowless worked for the political consulting firm Red Dome, which was on the payroll of the Harris campaign, according to WSOC.

Neither Dowless nor Red Dome responded to requests for comment.

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

Reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; additional reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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