January 22, 2019 / 6:16 PM / 24 days ago

North Carolina judge refuses to certify Republican as winner of U.S. House vote

(Reuters) - A North Carolina judge on Tuesday rejected Republican Mark Harris’ bid to be certified as the winner of a congressional vote at the center of an election fraud investigation, saying doing so would be a “dramatic intervention.”

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

Harris claimed victory over Democrat Dan McCready, after initial results of the November election showed he had won the Ninth Congressional District race by 905 votes. Harris filed a petition earlier this month to certify the results of the vote.

Judge Paul Ridgeway said at a hearing in Raleigh, North Carolina, that it would be premature for him to intervene before the state elections board finished its investigation.

“Certification is not appropriate until the investigation into the protest is concluded by final decision,” the judge said, noting “it would be highly unusual for this court to step in.”

Since the election, residents of rural Bladen County have stated in affidavits that people had come to their homes and collected incomplete absentee ballots. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

The State Board of Elections was to hold a hearing on Jan. 11 as part of its probe into possible election fraud involving the collection of absentee ballots. But Republicans refused to participate in the creation of an interim election board, which has left the race in limbo.

Lawyers for McCready and the state elections board told the judge on Tuesday that completion of the investigation was necessary because it could reveal evidence that calls into question the results of the vote.

Lawyers for Harris urged the judge to certify Harris as the district’s new congressman, saying there was nothing to contradict him as the winner and residents needed representation in Washington.

Neither candidate attended Tuesday’s hearing. Harris’ campaign said he was dealing with an illness.

A new state elections board will go into effect on Jan. 31. Board members will be able to call for an evidentiary hearing and could order a new vote. The U.S. House of Representatives also could rule on the election outcome.

“We are pleased that Harris’ frivolous request has been denied and that North Carolina can get back to investigating allegations of systematic electoral fraud committed on behalf of Harris’ campaign,” Wayne Goodwin, North Carolina’s Democratic Party chairman, said in a statement.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement he was confident Harris would eventually be seated.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool

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