WASHINGTON — A growing number of House Democrats on the Oversight Committee want to investigate the North Carolina 9th Congressional District race, where the close finish is being scrutinized as reports of stolen absentee ballots continue to emerge and the race has been left uncertified.
House Democrats are fast approaching a new Congress where they’ll be in the majority and able to pursue whatever investigation they like, and more and more Democrats are expressing outrage over the alleged tampering with ballots in the race in which Republican Mark Harris beat Democratic candidate Dan McCready by only 905 votes.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, who on Wednesday called for an emergency hearing in the House Oversight Committee on the congressional race, said he would “absolutely” support the committee looking into the 9th District race at the start of the new Congress.
“I don’t think it should wait. I think the voters of the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, like any other district, are entitled to representation, but they’re also entitled to a clean election,” Connolly told BuzzFeed News. “This one is so tainted that … we ought not to drag it out. We ought to try to move with expedition to resolve this issue one way or another.”
The controversy centers around McCrae Dowless, a political contractor hired by a firm working for the Harris campaign. Affidavits from voters allege absentee ballots were manipulated and falsified in the race. In interviews with BuzzFeed News, two women who worked for Dowless described a chaotic operation where they were paid “wads of cash” to collect ballots. The state board of elections has until Dec. 21 to complete the investigation and release its findings to the public.
If the race is certified, there would also be an opportunity for the race to be contested with the Committee on House Administration, which would then launch an investigation. A Democratic spokesperson for the Oversight Committee called that the “appropriate” process for the matter.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, who will chair the Oversight Committee in the new Congress, has not commented on whether he will pursue the investigation, but he did tweet Wednesday night that the allegations were “extremely troubling.”
He stopped short of calling for an Oversight Committee investigation, but did add, “Congressional GOP should join us in demanding a thorough investigation and that every vote is counted.”
Nancy Pelosi, whom Democrats have nominated to be the speaker of the house, has also not indicated support for such an investigation. Asked about the election Thursday, Pelosi appeared to be holding out for whatever comes on or before the Dec. 21 deadline. “The House still retains the right to decide who is seated.”
She added that the House Administration Committee would have “full investigative authority to determine the winner of the election,” but said nothing of the House Oversight Committee. (Her office deferred to the Oversight Committee in an earlier inquiry.)
“Only if it’s impossible to determine who the winner is, would we take the extraordinary step of calling for a new election,” Pelosi told reporters.
A Democratic spokesperson to the House Administration Committee told BuzzFeed News there are multiple ways in which the situation could end up in front of the House Administration Committee, and which avenue comes up largely hinges on whether the race is ultimately certified.
“We would not support seating Mr. Harris, or anyone from the North Carolina 9th District, until the cloud of election fraud is lifted from there. We would support whatever steps necessary to ensure that is the case,” said an Oversight Committee spokesperson in an email. “This is part of a broader pattern of Republican voter suppression. As Oversight Committee Chairman, Mr. Cummings plans to investigate voter suppression and fight any attempts to prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, who is slated to be the new majority leader in the new Congress, would support an Oversight Committee investigation “if the North Carolina Board of Elections certifies the race,” his office told BuzzFeed News Thursday.
If Oversight Committee Democrats were to look into this — and Connolly told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday afternoon that he had not heard any reaction from colleagues to his statement or spoken with Cummings directly — Connolly said they “probably would want to subpoena” Dowless, the man who appears to be at the center of the scandal.
A third member, California Rep. Jimmy Gomez tweeted on Wednesday that he would call for the committee to investigate “as soon as local authorities are done,” calling the situation “nothing short of a subversion of democracy.”
“Are we just going to sit here twiddling our thumbs as an election is stolen in front of our eyes? This is inexcusable,” Gomez tweeted.
Another member of the committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin, also told BuzzFeed News that while he would support an Oversight investigation, it could overlap with the Committee on House Administration’s jurisdiction. Raskin serves on both.
“We need to have discussions about where exactly the hearing should take place,” Raskin said. “Undoubtedly the Oversight Committee has the power to review the electoral corruption and misconduct, but at the same time the House Committee on Administration has the specific power to review contested elections. So I think we do need to see what arises out of North Carolina in terms of an investigation, and then figure out what the posture of this case is.”
For his part, Rep. Robert Brady, the outgoing ranking member of the House Administration Committee, said in a statement that they are monitoring the situation.
“Under the US Constitution, the House of Representatives has the express authority to be the judge of the elections of its own members, and will not tolerate efforts to unlawfully sway the outcome of any House election,” Brady said.
These are not the first signs of Democrats gearing up for congressional action. Earlier this week, Hoyer said Democrats may refuse to seat the Republican until the situation is straightened out.
And in the political world, the situation has already sparked action. Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton called for a special election. And Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who is heading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2020 cycle, said in a statement that the report of election fraud “must be investigated fully.”
Democrats have also called Republicans hypocrites, as President Donald Trump has long been known for playing up election fraud without evidence.
“It appears increasingly likely that North Carolina Republican operatives stole a House seat,” tweeted New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the soon-to-be Democratic Caucus chair. “Crickets from the Trump Administration. So here’s a thought: LOCK THEM UP.”
McCrae Dowless’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.