RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina's elections board delayed finalizing the results Tuesday of a close U.S. House race, as officials appear to be scrutinizing potential wrongdoing within the 9th Congressional District.
Board members meeting voted unanimously to certify the final tallies in nearly all of the elections held earlier this month, but didn't sign off on the 9th District, as well as a handful of other races subject to protests or recounts.
Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 votes cast in all or parts of eight south-central counties encompassing the 9th. The GOP has held the district since 1963.
The board met privately for nearly two hours before voting in public without giving a detailed explanation. "I can't reveal to you things that were done in closed session," board Chairman Andy Penry told reporters after the meeting, referring to them as "matters that are under investigation."
Member Joshua Malcolm of Robeson County lives in the 9th District and made the motion to delay race certification until at least Friday, when the board is to reconvene. Malcolm's motion cited a state law that reads the board can "take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election."
Before board members went behind closed doors, Malcolm said he was concerned about "unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state, and I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding." State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said late Tuesday it's his understanding the allegations are focused in Bladen County, which adjoins Robeson and is partially in the 9th, but didn't know the reason.
Spokesmen for the Harris and McCready campaigns didn't respond to texts Tuesday seeking comment on the board's decision. McCready conceded the race the day after Election Day, when unofficial totals had Harris ahead by less than 1,900 votes. He didn't change his mind later this month when additional absentee and provisional ballots counted cut the margin in half.
Harris, a Southern Baptist minister from Charlotte, appears in line to succeed GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger, who lost to Harris in the Republican primary in May. Democrats nationwide have won close to 40 additional seats while taking back control of the House come January. If Harris prevails, Republicans will continue to hold 10 of the 13 seats within the North Carolina delegation.
Woodhouse said in an interview it is clear Harris won the race and unless the board soon certifies the results he expects the matter will end up in court. Congressional terms begin Jan. 3. The board does have authority to order new elections in some circumstances if five of the nine members agree.
In December 2016, the state board agreed to send to federal prosecutors what its staff had uncovered while scrutinizing the November 2016 election and absentee ballots in Bladen County. The board didn't disclose at the time what it had found.
Voting machine failures and allegations of voter fraud and suppression have been front and center during this year's elections nationwide. North Carolina voters this month also approved a constitutional amendment this month mandating photo identification to vote in person.