(Reuters) - North Carolina’s board of elections on Friday declined to certify Republican Mark Harris' apparent victory in a U.S. House of Representatives race, calling instead for a public hearing to investigate claims of voter fraud and irregularities.
Harris edged Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the Nov. 6 congressional election. But the validity of hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots from a rural county has been called into question, the elections board said on Twitter.
The board voted 7-2 to hold a hearing due "to claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots," Joshua Malcolm, vice chairman of the board of elections, said in a recorded session on Friday.
It is the second time in as many years the board has considered voter fraud accusations in Bladen County, with charges after the 2016 elections ultimately dismissed.
In a statement, Harris said there were not enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of the race. He urged the board to immediately certify him the victor, while continuing to conduct their investigation.
The contest will not affect the balance of power in the new Congress that sits in January. Democrats already gained enough seats to take control of the House, while Republicans will still hold a Senate majority.
Harris was on Capitol Hill on Friday participating in freshman orientation. He participated in the office lottery and selected a space in the House office buildings.
The North Carolina board is expected to look into accusations that people came to the doors of Bladen County voters ahead of the Nov. 6 vote and asked them to hand over ballots, sometimes unsealed and uncompleted. Filling out a ballot for another person, or destroying it, is illegal.
Investigators are also expected to scrutinize unusually high numbers of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County in both the general election and the May 8 primary, in which Harris defeated Republican incumbent congressman Robert Pittenger.
The hearing will be held by Dec. 21.
The North Carolina Democratic Party said there was enough evidence of fraud to cast doubt on the fairness of the election.
The party has said it has affidavits from two voters who said their absentee ballots were collected by a woman who told them she would finish filling them out herself.
"We applaud the board’s bipartisan decision to delay certification and fully investigate the concerning allegations," said the party's state chairman Wayne Goodwin in a statement.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Grant McCool)