What the Hell Is Happening in This North Carolina Congressional Race?


Something shady happened with the election in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District. Nobody, however, seems to want to say what that is.

Officials are investigating “irregularities with absentee ballots,” per the Washington Post. While they continue their investigation, they are refusing to officially mark the race as completed, meaning Republican Mark Harris’ 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready will be put on hold for the time being. The issue appears to have arisen from ballots mailed in from voters in Bladen County, though Robeson County officials have also been contacted.

Again, nobody from the state elections office is saying anything about what the hell is happening—all they would confirm to the Post and other local outlets is that an elections investigator showed up to the Bladen County election offices on Nov. 7 and seized both absentee ballot request forms and the envelopes they were shipped in.

Meanwhile, Steve Stone, the chair of the Robeson County Board of Elections, told the Post that while they’re complying with any requests from the state, they’ve already reported that the Robeson County office fielded reports of people going door-to-door telling citizens they needed to re-register to vote and to fill out an absentee ballot request form. Stone said that Robeson County had 1,200 ballots go unreturned this year, which he pointed out was an unusually high number.

Thankfully, WFAE added a little more background in an early Thursday morning report, writing that the issue may not be unique to the Harris-McCready general election. Per WFAE, the issues could also extend to Harris’ primary victory over incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger.

Harris won the May primary by just 828 votes. The issue arises when reviewing the percentage of absentee ballots cast from Bladen County compared to the rest of the state—based on data from the N.C. Board of Elections, 22 percent of all the votes cast in Bladen County for that race came from absentee voters; of those 456 votes, 437 voted for Harris. Now, square that with the fact that the next highest county in terms of voters using absentee ballots was Mecklenburg, where Charlotte and its suburbs are located—just 1.6 percent of voters filled out absentee ballots there.

Fast forward to Tuesday, when, in the middle of a Board of Election meeting, board member Joshua Malcolm proclaimed, “I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, and which has been repeatedly referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys to clean up.” The nine-member board then went into a closed session and voted unanimously not to certify the results of the Harris-McCready election.

In the lead-up to the midterms, the Ninth District was billed as one of the key Congressional races to watch. The race, between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris, was for a district that stretches from the southern suburbs of Charlotte all the way to Fayetteville. Thanks to a heavy concentration of potential Democratic voters in those Charlotte suburbs, the popular narrative was that McCready, a Duke- and Harvard-educated Marine veteran, would be appealing enough to beat Harris, a right-wing sexist pastor, in a district that had went for Trump in 2016 by a commanding 12 points.

Come election day, however, Harris edged out McCready by 905 votes out of a total 282,717. Per the Post, Harris claimed Bladen County by 1,557 votes while McCready topped his GOP opponent in Robeson County by 4,728 votes. McCready conceded the race on Nov. 7, with the margin of defeat for the Democratic candidate sitting around 1,700 votes, per WCTI 12.

We’ve reached out to McCready, Harris, and Pittenger for comment, and will update with any response we receive.

If this all seems like a muddled, confusing mess, it’s because it is! The state board has offered minimal communication as the process has dragged on, leaving the yeoman’s work to the media and the local elections boards to piece together some general understanding of why it is that one of what ended up being the most hotly contested House races in the state and the nation is still unresolved.

So, it seems about right that a potentially massive mail-in ballot scandal would unfold right as the state legislature spends its time and taxpayer-funded salaries drawing up voter ID legislation that the conservatives in the General Assembly have been drooling over for the past eight years, despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is essentially nonexistent in the state. Really great stuff all around.

Update, 4:09 p.m. ET: Pittenger’s spokesperson responded to Splinter’s request for comment, passing along the following statement:

Congressman Pittenger has discussed this issue in a previously-scheduled interview, and that is all he chooses to say at this time. Thank you for your inquiry.

This is the referenced interview:

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