Governor to create interim board of elections, state board dissolves

Gov. Roy Cooper is moving forward with plans to create an interim board of elections, despite opposition from some Republicans, after the State Board of Elections dissolved Friday. 

"It's just chaotic limbo," said Catawba College political science professor Dr. Michael Bitzer. 

The dissolution of the state board comes two weeks before a scheduled hearing into allegations of ballot fraud. Republican Mark Harris, who won the Ninth Congressional District race by less than a thousand votes, sent an an emergency petition asking the board to certify the election before a court ordered the board to dissolve at noon. 

The board did not certify the election and said it would "continue to investigate 9th Congressional District irregularities" on Twitter. 

RELATED: NC State Board of Elections to be dissolved Friday, 9th District investigation in limbo

The state Republican party is refusing to submit nominations for an interim board calling it an "unconstitutional illegal sham." The interim board would serve until a new one is sworn in on Jan. 31.

"The governor is following the law and the Republican Party chairman should, too," said Gov. Cooper's office in a statement. "His refusal to submit nominees and his directive to stop potential nominees from accepting appointment is an attempt to impede and obstruct an ongoing investigation. Empty chairs on the Board of Elections help no one."

"Republicans in the legislature have said that's an illegal move that the governor does not have the authority to do that," said Bitzer. "We  will likely see it end up, yet again, in court."

The state GOP wants Harris to "take immediate action in federal court" to try to force the state to certify him the winner. Catawba College political science professor Dr. Michael Bitzer calls that "dubious constitutional law."

"Article 1, Section 5, gives complete power to the US House and to the US Senate to seat their own representatives," said Bitzer. "And come Jan. 3rd, the Democrats taking over the US house will likely not seat Mark Harris."

FOX 46 reached out multiple times Friday to House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi but her office is not commenting.  

"When can Congress Refuse to Seat a Duly-Elected Candidate #Never," wrote state Republican vice chair Michele Nix.

Earlier this month, the North Carolina GOP had called for another election in response to allegations of fraud. On Friday, party chairman Robin Hayes seemed optimistic Harris will be sworn in. 

"I look forward to being in Washington, D.C. on January 3rd to see Mark take the oath of office," Hayes said in a statement. 

Harris, who has kept a low profile and avoided reporters after a GOP event this month, appeared on WBT radio Friday. He denied knowledge of any alleged illegal activity by McCrae Dowless, the political operative he hired, who is accused of tampering with absentee ballots in Bladen County. 

"I hired McCrae Dowless because of two things: One he had proven success because he beat me in 2016 and there was no indication or sign" or wrongdoing, Harris said.

Dowless worked for his primary opponent at the time. His second reason for hiring him, Harris said, was because elected officials were "vouching" for Dowless and the "incredible impact he had had."

It is unclear when an interim board will be named, if it will be challenged in court and what will happen with the ongoing ballot fraud investigation.  

"I think we're just walking into the weekend and into the new year with a lot of unknowns," said Bitzer.