Commentary

Calls mount for a new election in the 9th District

There were new and powerful editorials over the weekend that lent their voices to the growing chorus demanding a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The Fayetteville Observer put it this way in “Start planning a new 9th District election”:

Given the growing evidence that some ballots were tampered with and others may have been dumped and never tallied, we’re expecting the new election. And some elected Republicans are calling for a broader investigation that includes previous elections and other districts, noting that the 9th in Bladen and Robeson counties isn’t the only place where we’ve seen anomalies in absentee ballot tallies in elections that go back at least to 2010.

State elections officials have gotten complaints about such activities in the past and have forwarded the information to local law enforcement and prosecutors. But no one has investigated. Now it appears we have a sufficiently egregious case that it can’t be ignored any longer.

Good. Keep the investigations rolling and give them all the staffing they need.

And meanwhile, let’s start planning 9th District Election 2.0.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer made a strong case that a new primary is necessary as well. After explaining that similar vote tampering may well have occurred in the GOP primary in which Mark Harris edged out incumbent Robert Pittenger, the Observer says this in “McCready-Harris re-do isn’t enough; start over entirely”:

So the results of the primary are as tainted as the results of the general election. The state board of elections plans to hold a hearing the week before Christmas and could order a new election. But here’s the catch: According to former General Assembly counsel Gerry Cohen, the state board can order only a new general election featuring the same three candidates. It cannot order a new primary because it already certified the primary’s results.

That leaves it up to the U.S. House to do the right thing. Republicans can’t do anything in their final weeks in the majority. Democrats take over the House on Jan. 3. They might be tempted to hold only a new general election (cloaked in a deference to state authorities) because it could help them politically. Harris has surely lost some popularity over this scandal, so a McCready-Harris rematch could be appetizing for Democrats.

But it’d be the wrong thing to do. The House, led by Democrats, on Jan. 3 should vacate the election results and order a new election with primaries. Pittenger, Harris and any other Republican would be able to file (and any Democrat). Only that would provide the entirely clean slate that 9th District voters deserve. Some have even floated the idea of just naming McCready the winner, an absurd idea.

Absent a new primary ordered by the U.S. House, the only way Pittenger or any Republican replaces Harris on the ballot is if Harris moves to another state. If that happens, Republican officials would name a replacement. But Harris would have to move, Cohen says; he can’t just decline the nomination.

(A new election could leave the seat open well into next summer, and that’s unfortunate. But Cohen reminds us that Republicans who decry a lack of representation in the 9th were silent when Rep. Mel Watt resigned from the 12th District seat in December 2013 and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory kept the seat open for 11 months rather than hold an election.)

The problems in this year’s 9th District election extended back to the primary. The response must as well.

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