North Carolina

Fact check: Who ‘forced’ the special election in North Carolina?

Mark Harris calls for new election in 9th district

Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.
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Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.

Corrected on March 19. See story for details.

After investigators found voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, the state Republican Party opposed the idea of a new election.

In November, Republican Mark Harris held a 905-vote advantage over Democrat Dan McCready. The irregularities, the NCGOP argued, didn’t affect enough votes to make a difference in the outcome of the race.

Fast forward to March. The NC elections board has called a special election in the 9th district, and the GOP is raising money to help whoever its candidate ends up being in September.

In doing so, the party is misleading donors about the history of the race. A March 12 fundraising email warns supporters about “horrible news.”

“Democrats have forced a special election in North Carolina, and the race is tied!” the email says in bold print.

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Screen grab of March 12 NC GOP email newsletter

Is the race tied? Only in the sense that no candidates have emerged yet from their party’s primary.

We’ll also address whether Democrats “forced” a special election. But first, some important dates: the primary will take place May 14 and the general election will be on Sept. 10. If no candidate gets 30 percent of the vote in the primary, a runoff election will be held Sept. 10, followed by a general election Nov. 5.

Now, let’s talk about how we got here. The GOP says Democrats “forced” a special election — which gives the impression that support for a new election was purely partisan.

It wasn’t.

How it happened

The NC elections board has jurisdiction over races for federal office across the state.

In November, the board was made up of nine members — four Republicans, four Democrats and a left-leaning unaffiliated member — when it voted 7-2 against certifying the 9th district race results.

In January, a court decision reconstituted the board with five members: three Democrats and two Republicans.

In February, after a four-day hearing on the findings of the fraud investigation, the reconstituted board voted unanimously (5-0) to nullify November’s results and launch a new election. The board acted shortly after Harris, in a surprise move, expressed his support for a new election.

“It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” Harris said, and the New York Times reported.

A GOP-backed decision

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the NC GOP, pointed out that Democrats controlled the elections board.

“Republicans could not force a special election, and could not certify alone,” Woodhouse said.

However, state law required four of the five board members to OK a new election, according to board spokesman Patrick Gannon. So Republicans had an influence on the decision to call for a new election. And the two Republican members of the board voted for a new election shortly after Harris said he also supported it.

(An earlier version of this story misstated the process for launching a new election in the 9th district. It requires approval from four NC elections board members, not three.)

Furthermore, on the day Harris called for a new election, Woodhouse said he supported Harris’ decision.

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Screen grab of Feb. 21 tweet

“Today I ask for everyone’s prayers for @MarkHarrisNC9 Today is a tremendously difficult day for his family, supporters and the entire @NCGOP We support our candidates decision in this matter. We will do everything we can to help the process and system improve in the future,” Woodhouse tweeted on Feb. 21.

In a statement released the same day, the NC GOP said “we respect Dr. Harris’ decision” and thanked the elections board. And on Feb. 26, after Harris dropped out of contention for the seat, the GOP put out another statement saying, “This has been a grueling process for all involved, and we unequivocally support his call for a new election.”

PolitiFact ruling

An NC GOP fundraising email said “Democrats have forced a special election” in the 9th Congressional District. Democrats held a majority on the NC elections board, but the vote to order a new election was supported by the board’s two Republican members and the Republican candidate. We rate this claim False.

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This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide. To offer ideas for fact checks, email factcheck@newsobserver.com.

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Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.


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