GOP chairman: Vote tally sharing would warrant new election

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's Republican Party chairman said Tuesday that the state should order a new election in an unresolved congressional race if an affidavit alleging some early voting totals were improperly shared before Election Day is accurate.

The state Democratic Party gave the affidavit of Agnes Willis, a Bladen County precinct worker and registered Democrat, to the elections board two weeks ago. Willis wrote that vote tallies were printed out at Bladen's in-person early voting site after the site closed for good on the Saturday before Election Day and were reviewed by people who were not election judges.

"It is my understanding that this was improper," Willis wrote in the Nov. 29 affidavit.

State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse told reporters in Charlotte the party is "pretty certain" the vote tallies were leaked but didn't explain how it knew. Providing such data to outsiders could help political campaigns with get-out-the-vote strategies, he said.

"The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election," state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a news release.

Hayes' comments came less than two weeks after he accused Democrats of "throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election" in the 9th Congressional District.

The state elections board has declined to certify the district's results in light of mail-in absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County that it's still investigating and other issues in Robeson County. Unofficial results in the eight-county district show Republican Mark Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

The board scheduled an evidentiary hearing on or before Dec. 21. For a new election, a majority of board members must determine that enough absentee ballots are at issue to have changed the outcome or that improprieties cast doubt on the election's fairness. The board's chairman suggested this week it may need more time to investigate while it awaits documents from subpoenaed parties. Those subpoenaed include Harris' campaign and a firm working as its chief strategist.

The strategist, Red Dome Group, hired contract worker McCrae Dowless, who has been labeled by board investigators as a "person of interest" in an alleged absentee ballot operation in the district. Other affidavits by Bladen County voters describe people coming to their homes and collecting their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been completed or sealed in an envelope.

Harris' campaign said it was not aware of any illegal conduct in the race, but Harris said Friday that he would support a new election if it's proved that fraud changed the outcome. Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said at a news conference Tuesday that Harris needs to make public what he knew about Dowless' work.

Republican state lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday that would keep in place the current board until the end of next month, which GOP legislators say should be enough time for the board to finish investigating the 9th District accusations.

The nine-member board would have ceased to exist as of Wednesday because of litigation filed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper unrelated to the 9th District. A three-judge panel in October threw out the current board composition as unconstitutional. But the judges late Tuesday again delayed enforcement of their ruling, this time until Dec. 28 at the latest.

Harnett County GOP Rep. David Lewis had announced that the bill would require any new election called to also require that primary elections be rerun as well, but he said the provision was left out of the final bill because of lack of support. The full House and Senate will vote on the bill Wednesday.

Lewis argued earlier Tuesday that holding new primaries made sense because absentee ballots also seem to have been an issue during May's primary elections in the district. Harris won 96 percent of the mail-in ballots in Bladen County on the way to his narrow victory over incumbent GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger. In the general election, Bladen was the only county in the 9th District where Harris won a majority of mail-in absentee ballots over McCready.

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