ABA LEGAL FACT CHECK

Who handles cases of fraud in a congressional election?

Six weeks after the Nov. 6 election, the winner of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race still has not been finalized. The problem: allegations of election fraud involving an operative for the Republican candidate who beat his opponent by 905 votes.

State investigators and the FBI are probing whether the consultant, a convicted felon, led an operation to illegally collect absentee ballots from blacks and other presumed Democratic voters. Some ballots were destroyed while unsealed and incomplete ballots were filled out and turned in. The Republican candidate, Mark Harris, has denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme and has said, “If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity … on a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election.”

A new ABA Legal Fact Check explores the intersection of federal and state laws that govern campaigns and elections, as well as the legal issues raised by the contested North Carolina vote. The administration of elections is primarily a state-level responsibility, although during the past half century the federal role has grown in six broad categories of law: campaign finance; election administration; election security; redistricting; qualifications and contested elections; and voting rights. Some of these laws apply only to federal elections, while others, such as the Voting Rights Act, cover all U.S. elections.

Under North Carolina state law, only the State Board of Elections can order a new election, citing any one of four criteria. Three mention ballots “sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election.” The fourth says that the board may order a new election if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the result of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

The board has set an evidentiary hearing for Dec. 21; on Dec. 12, the North Carolina legislature approved a bill that would essentially restart the election process, including primaries, if the board ordered a new election.