(Reuters) - Republicans in North Carolina refused on Wednesday to participate in the creation of an interim elections board, forcing election officials to postpone a hearing in its investigation of election fraud in a congressional contest.
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 in the run-up to the November elections that has left the race for the Ninth Congressional District in limbo.
Republican Mark Harris has claimed victory over Democrat Dan McCready after initial results showed he won the race by 905 votes.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he would appoint an interim elections board which was disbanded on Friday after a state court declined to extend a stay on a previous order declaring the composition of the board unconstitutional.
Under state law, Cooper is to seat the five-person board from a list of names provided by the two political parties. But the state’s Republican party said on Wednesday it would not submit names to the governor.
“Our unwillingness to participate in the creation of an unlawful ‘interim’ State Board of Elections results from a desire to ensure that any future investigation surrounding the Ninth Congressional District election is open, fair, and transparent, and not tainted by actions taken by an illegal board,” North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement.
Election board officials said in a statement that, as a result, the hearing was postponed but staff would continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads.
“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort. Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way,” Cooper said.
Since the November election, residents of rural Bladen County have stated in affidavits that people came to their homes and collected incomplete absentee ballots. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
The campaign for Harris said in a statement that he will file a petition on Thursday with a state court to certify the results of the election.
North Carolina’s board of elections could order a new vote. The U.S. House of Representatives could also rule on the election outcome.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Grant McCool