RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina board investigating allegations of ballot fraud in a still-unresolved congressional race could be disbanded Friday under a state court ruling in a protracted legal battle about how the panel operates.
A three-judge state court panel ruled Thursday to allow the state Board of Elections to dissolve at noon Friday, ahead of a scheduled Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing into the 9th district congressional race. It’s not clear when a new election board could be put in place if the ruling stands.
The court previously found the board’s makeup unconstitutional in a protracted legal battle launched when the Republican-controlled legislature altered the board in 2016 in a power struggle with the Democratic governor. The court had ruled earlier this year to allow the board to remain in place until Friday while it investigates the congressional race. The latest ruling came just after lawmakers enacted a new law to largely restore the board to how it operated before 2016.
It’s not clear how quickly Gov. Roy Cooper could appoint a replacement panel under the new law, or if a higher court could intervene to allow the current panel to stay in place until the congressional race is resolved.
The state Elections Board has refused to certify the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready while it investigates absentee ballot irregularities in the congressional district stretching from the Charlotte area through several counties to the east. Harris holds a slim lead in unofficial results, but election officials are looking into criminal allegations against an operative hired by the Harris campaign.
Harris issued a statement Thursday night arguing that the latest court ruling shows he should be certified and seated in Congress when it convenes in January.
“Today the Court reinforced our position that the 9th District deserves to be represented in Congress on January 3rd,” Harris said, adding: “Based on the Court ruling, I am hopeful the State Board of Elections will act swiftly in certifying this election.”