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

The North Carolina State Board of Elections will no longer exist as of noon Friday, according to a Superior Court ruling. 

The dissolution of the NCSBE has been pushed back four times since Oct. 16. It was done to allow the Board time to investigate allegations of election fraud in the 9th Congressional District and certify the race or call for a new election.

Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready requested the Board remain intact a fifth time, but the petition was denied on Thursday. Both parties have called for a new election to take place after allegations of ballot fraud. 

On Dec. 11, a fourth stay was issued until Friday, Dec. 28 based on the assertion that an evidentiary hearing on the reports of absentee ballot inconstancies would be held by Dec. 21.

LINK: NC Legislature overrides Gov. Cooper's veto affecting NC-09 House race

Chairman Joshua Malcolm reportedly sent a second letter stating that the evidentiary hearing would be held on Jan. 11 rather than Dec. 21 but court officials say they never got that letter.

The court says no explanation was given as to why the hearing was pushed back to past its deadline into January. The court said if the hearing had taken place when it was supposed to the investigation could have been wrapped up and election results certified by its Dec. 28 deadline. 

"The Court has no reason to believe that the January timetable proposed by the Board would be followed anymore than the other timetables have been," the order said. 

Without the NCSBE, it is unclear what will happen with the election fraud investigation, or how the results of the race will be certified.   

"State Board attorneys are reviewing the order, which we received late this afternoon," a spokesperson for the State Board of Elections said. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has yet to comment.

"It was very much a surprise," said Catawba College political science professor Dr. Michael Bitzer. "But in line with the chaos we've been seeing over the pat several weeks."

The ruling comes two weeks before the NCSBE was supposed to hold a hearing into allegations of voter fraud in the 9th Congressional district and amid bipartisan calls for a new election.

Gov. Cooper is likely to appeal the decision and ask for a stay until after the Jan. 11 hearing, Bitzer said. 

"I think there will be a flurry of activity tomorrow morning," said Bitzer.

Back in October, the same panel ruled the current board of elections unconstitutionally took power away from the governor. The judges did not like that the NCSBE scheduled a hearing after its Dec. 28 deadline. 

"The three judges were very unhappy the state board went ahead and did that," said Bitzer. "It was very much a judicial displeasure."

The ruling comes on the same day the North Carolina General Assembly voted to overturn the governor's veto of House Bill 1029. The new law restores the way elections are governed, reverting back to a five-member election board and a separate ethics board. 

With a Democratic-controlled House, Bitzer says it is unlikely Harris will be seated until an investigation is complete. He says the seat could be declared "vacant." It is also possible the current investigation will be turned over to the new board of elections at the end of January. 

"Perhaps nothing happens. We don't have a State Board of Elections between noon tomorrow and end of January when the new [election board is supposed to go into business," said Bitzer. "We would just have a month's time, basically, of interruption before the new [election] board would start."

The ruling adds a layer of uncertainty to an already uncertain race and raises questions about what will happen next. 

"I think it's anybody's guess at this point," said Bitzer.