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What's Happening In North Carolina's 9th District As Congress Begins Its New Session

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One chair will be empty tomorrow as the clerk in the House of Representatives gavels in a new session. That chair belongs to whoever represents North Carolina's 9th District. Problem is, coming up on two months after the November election, we still don't know who that is. The election was held, but there were allegations of election fraud, prompting the state elections board to investigate, but that board was just dissolved. Well, to get us up to speed on what is happening in North Carolina, we're joined by Joe Bruno. He's a reporter with WSOC-TV in Charlotte. Hey there, Joe.

JOE BRUNO: Hey there.

KELLY: So to set the stage here, the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, seemed to have won in November by 905 votes. As I mentioned, there were these allegations of election fraud and questions about mail-in ballots. A big investigation was underway. What is the state of that investigation now?

BRUNO: Well, right now, the investigation really is a no man's land because of a court ruling to dissolve the state board of elections. As of right now, there are no board members. And that impacts the investigation dramatically because nobody...

KELLY: Yes, it would.

BRUNO: ...Can order subpoenas to be issued, among other things, and there would be no board members to sit on an evidentiary hearing scheduled for January 11 next week. So what the governor has said is he's going to appoint an interim board of elections that will serve until the end of the month when a new law that was enacted by the General Assembly takes place, which reforms the board of elections.

KELLY: OK. And we should note the board was dissolved for unrelated reasons, right? This had been in the works for a while. There had been litigation involving questions about the makeup of that board. We'll set that bit aside for now. But this hearing that they were supposed to have held on January 11, you're saying that's possible it could still go ahead.

BRUNO: It's possible that this meeting could still be held. The new board of elections would be composed of five members - three Democrats, two Republicans. Republicans have said they don't want anything to do with this board. They don't think Governor Cooper has the legal right to form this board, so they are refusing to participate in it. The governor can still appoint three Democrats and have quorum for the meeting. The problem is it takes a fourth person in order for a new election to be called. So it's possible that we could have this hearing on the 11 where all the evidence is laid out but then no action is taken.

KELLY: I mean, this sounds just like complete chaos. Have you ever covered anything like this?

BRUNO: No. This is complete chaos, and it changes every day and seems like every hour to be honest with you. And then it's possible that the U.S. House could take the findings of whatever the state board determines and incorporate it into whatever decision they make because the U.S. House has the authority to vacate the seat and order a new primary and new election. So it's possible that the state board of elections doesn't order the new election, but the U.S. House then goes ahead and does it.

KELLY: Is that sounding increasingly like a possibility?

BRUNO: We have the incoming majority leader, Steny Hoyer, saying that Mark Harris will not be seated, and the concerns about the seat being vacant are not as heavy as the fact that there was potentially election fraud rampant throughout Bladen and Robeson counties. So it sounds like the incoming Democratic leadership team is certainly trending toward there being a new election.

But again, this isn't an easy thing. This isn't just a simple let's order a new election. They're going to have to make sure they investigate this. And it's no easy task, and I'm sure it's no easy decision for them to come to that conclusion.

KELLY: And meanwhile, what are these two candidates and their camps saying, either Mark Harris on the Republican side or Dan McCready, his Democratic rival?

BRUNO: Well, Mark Harris is demanding certification. He still is holding out hope that he will be sworn in as a member of the 116th Congress. Dan McCready, on the other hand, is preparing for the possibility of a new election. Team McCready has been sending out at least one or two emails a day to potential donors. They're already raising money whereas the Harris team is still holding on to hope that a new election will not be needed.

KELLY: Joe Bruno, a very busy political reporter with WSOC-TV in Charlotte, thanks so much for taking the time.

BRUNO: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.