Judge refuses to certify Republican as winner of House vote

A North Carolina judge on Tuesday rejected Republican Mark Harris' bid to be certified as the winner of a congressional vote at the center of an election fraud investigation, saying doing so would be a "dramatic intervention."

Harris claimed victory over Democrat Dan McCready, after initial results of the November election showed he had won the Ninth Congressional District race by 905 votes. Harris filed a petition earlier this month to certify the results of the vote.

Judge Paul Ridgeway said at a hearing in Raleigh, North Carolina, that it would be premature for him to intervene before the state elections board finished its investigation.

"Certification is not appropriate until the investigation into the protest is concluded by final decision," the judge said, noting "it would be highly unusual for this court to step in."

Since the election, residents of rural Bladen County have stated in affidavits that people had come to their homes and collected incomplete absentee ballots. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

The State Board of Elections was to hold a hearing on Jan. 11 as part of its probe into possible election fraud involving the collection of absentee ballots. But Republicans refused to participate in the creation of an interim election board, which has left the race in limbo.

Republican Mark Harris
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Republican Mark Harris
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)

Lawyers for McCready and the state elections board told the judge on Tuesday that completion of the investigation was necessary because it could reveal evidence that calls into question the results of the vote.

Lawyers for Harris urged the judge to certify Harris as the district's new congressman, saying there was nothing to contradict him as the winner and residents needed representation in Washington.

Neither candidate attended Tuesday's hearing. Harris' campaign said he was dealing with an illness.

A new state elections board will go into effect on Jan. 31. Board members will be able to call for an evidentiary hearing and could order a new vote. The U.S. House of Representatives also could rule on the election outcome.

"We are pleased that Harris' frivolous request has been denied and that North Carolina can get back to investigating allegations of systematic electoral fraud committed on behalf of Harris' campaign," Wayne Goodwin, North Carolina's Democratic Party chairman, said in a statement.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement he was confident Harris would eventually be seated.

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