In District 9, investigators should heed the truth, not the clock

In District 9, investigators should heed the truth, not the clock

9th District candidates, Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready

Hope you made a wish on that shooting star.

I’m talking about that fleeting moment last week, when Democrats and reluctant Republicans seemed to agree on the need for a new election in North Carolina’s mud-varnished 9th Congressional District.

The Earth shook and the seas parted as politicos from both parties appeared to join hands, perhaps taking in the gathering evidence that a Republican operative may have hacked our election apparatus, piloting an alleged spider web of a get-out-the-vote campaign or perhaps more appropriately, a get-the-vote-out campaign, accused of illegally handling – or, worst-case scenario, destroying – thousands of absentee ballots.

The accord was over before you could fully appreciate it, shattered Monday when top Republicans in the 9th urged members of the state’s elections board to certify the results of Baptist minister Mark Harris’ supremely suspect victory if they cannot produce evidence of wrongdoing by Congress’ return in January.

“The Board of Elections has failed to demonstrate in a timely manner the evidence regarding the allegations concerning the voting irregularities surrounding the Ninth Congressional District,” the Republican resolution reads.

State officials should ignore the peanut gallery. Republicans are setting a needless knee-jerk deadline, of course, and they hold very little actual power in enforcing such a ludicrous demand.

But in the meantime, the Republican-controlled state legislature is scrambling to rewrite the law, requiring a primary in the event of an election, a primary that Democratic members of Congress – wrongfully – seem inclined to dismiss.

Republicans insist that Harris is innocent, but in the event of a new election, it’s clear they’d rather the minister’s tarnished name not be on the ballot. Reports have suggested the candidate may have played a direct role in hiring the GOP operative at the center of the alleged scheme.

Given the apparent hijinks in District 9, a new election seems necessary, and a new primary with it.

But if you know how all of this ends, good for you. The rest of us are still trying to get a handle on how it started.

We’re well-acquainted with unprecedented events in our political landscape these days, but the District 9 mess is a whole new beast. Who’s to say when the residents of District 9, which stretches east from Charlotte to Robeson County’s rural residents south of Fayetteville, will be represented in Congress?

Voters in the 9th deserve to have their voices heard in Congress when they reconvene in January, Republicans said Monday, with the state board prepping for a high-stakes hearing on the Harris fiasco just days after Congress’ return.

Voters in the 9th also deserve to have an elected representative untainted by credible allegations of honest-to-god voter fraud, not the sort Republicans worked voters into a frenzy over with their misguided voter ID amendment, but no less damning to democracy.

“If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election,” Harris intoned somberly days ago.

Such hand-wringing is key to the Republican strategy these days, a not-so-subtle suggestion that just a bit of ballot fraud from their side, provided it would not affect the outcome, is somehow more palatable.  The hypocrisy – from a party that’s tried to fashion an image as crusaders against voter fraud – is staggering, but you know that.

When this investigation’s wrapped – whenever that may be; state election investigators should take their time – North Carolinians may have far more questions ahead then behind.

Given the reports that the suspicion in Bladen County and parts south predates even Harris’ primary with outgoing Congressman Robert Pittenger, perhaps even ex-Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2016 race with Roy Cooper, our next questions should turn inward.

What did the state do to investigate these matters then, and most importantly, what didn’t it do? State elections chief Kim Strach made her reputation as a bulldog investigator, bagging top Democrats like Jim Black, a former state Speaker of the House who pleaded guilty to corruption charges, including the claims that he accepted cash from groups seeking to influence him in the legislature.

But a reputation isn’t made on past deeds alone. North Carolinians have a right to know whether state officials handled this investigation fully and appropriately. Indeed, North Carolinians should know how Bladen County’s well-documented electoral follies endured multiple administrations.

Investigators have a long road ahead of them. No use putting a clock on it.