U.S. House race in limbo after North Carolina voter fraud claims

Nov 30 (Reuters) - North Carolina’s board of elections on Friday declined to certify Republican Mark Harris' apparent victory in a U.S. House of Representatives race, calling instead for a public hearing to investigate claims of voter fraud and irregularities.

Harris edged Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the Nov. 6 congressional election. But the validity of hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots from a rural county has been called into question, the elections board said on Twitter.

The board voted 7-2 to hold a hearing due "to claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots," Joshua Malcolm, vice chairman of the board of elections, said in a recorded session on Friday.

It is the second time in as many years the board has considered voter fraud accusations in Bladen County, with charges after the 2016 elections ultimately dismissed.

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In a statement, Harris said there were not enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of the race. He urged the board to immediately certify him the victor, while continuing to conduct their investigation.

The contest will not affect the balance of power in the new Congress that sits in January. Democrats already gained enough seats to take control of the House, while Republicans will still hold a Senate majority.

Harris was on Capitol Hill on Friday participating in freshman orientation. He participated in the office lottery and selected a space in the House office buildings.

The North Carolina board is expected to look into accusations that people came to the doors of Bladen County voters ahead of the Nov. 6 vote and asked them to hand over ballots, sometimes unsealed and uncompleted. Filling out a ballot for another person, or destroying it, is illegal.

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Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Harris is leading Dan McCready for the 9th congressional district in a race that is still too close to call. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris, center, speaks as President Donald Trump, left, and Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., right, listen during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
FILE- In this Nov. 7, 2018, file photo Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C. North Carolina election officials agreed Friday, Nov. 30, to hold a public hearing into alleged “numerous irregularities” and “concerted fraudulent activities” involving traditional mail-in absentee ballots in the 9th Congressional District, apparently in two rural counties. Republican Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes from nearly 283,000 cast in all or parts of eight south-central counties reaching from Charlotte to near Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
North Carolina 9th district Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris, left, with his wife Beth, claims victory in his congressional race in Monroe, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Rep. Mark Harris, R-N.C., after arriving at Charlotte Douglas International Airport for a campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris, right, greets another worker during a Habitat For Humanity building event in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Harris is running against democrat Dan McCready in the 9th Congressional District. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC, right, and Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris, left, greet supporters during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Republican Senate candidate Mark Harris smiles as he talks to a voter as he makes phone bank calls from his headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, May 5, 2014. The struggle for control of the Republican Party gets an early voter test in North Carolina, where GOP leaders Mitt Romney and Rand Paul push candidates competing against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in the November midterm elections. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Republican senatorial candidates from left, Greg Brannon, Heather Grant, Mark Harris and Thom Tillis participate during a televised debate at UNC-TV in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Monday, April 28, 2014. (AP Photo/ Pool)
Pastor Mark Harris, right, of Charlotte, North Carolina talks with Jahnmaud O. Lane during an election party at the North Raleigh Hilton on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - NOVEMBER 07: Rep. Mark Harris attends the Billy Graham birthday party on November 7, 2013 in Asheville, United States. (Photo by Alicia Funderburk/Getty Images)
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Investigators are also expected to scrutinize unusually high numbers of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County in both the general election and the May 8 primary, in which Harris defeated Republican incumbent congressman Robert Pittenger.

The hearing will be held by Dec. 21.

The North Carolina Democratic Party said there was enough evidence of fraud to cast doubt on the fairness of the election.

The party has said it has affidavits from two voters who said their absentee ballots were collected by a woman who told them she would finish filling them out herself.

"We applaud the board’s bipartisan decision to delay certification and fully investigate the concerning allegations," said the party's state chairman Wayne Goodwin in a statement.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Grant McCool)

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