'So unfair:' NC residents remain without representation as 9th District fight drags on

President Donald Trump will deliver his State of the Union Address before a packed U.S. Capitol albeit with one notable absence: a congressman representing North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District.

Mark Harris, the Republican candidate for the seat, continues to lead Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes in a race mired by allegations of voter fraud and politicization of the process.

"It's absolutely tragic," McCready told ABC11. "This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is about our most sacred right as Americans."

McCready had at one point conceded the election to Harris, but rescinded that gesture on Dec. 6. McCready, an Iraq War veteran, said he changed his mind with the arrival of the allegations, some of which have been linked to a man who worked for Harris' chief strategist.

"We don't know right now what did Mark Harris know, when did he know it, how many ballots did his campaign throw in the trash, how many voters did his campaign steal their voice," McCready said. "The only we find that out is if Mark Harris has to testify under oath at this hearing."

McCready has also requested subpoenas for dozens of people - including Harris, North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse, and McRae Dowless, the political operative who is at the center of the allegations of harvesting absentee ballots.

"Our right to vote is our most basic freedom as Americans," McCready says. "It's a freedom men and women have sacrificed their lives for overseas and given their lives here on the home front in civil rights. This is under attack now in North Carolina. This is something we have to get right. Our democracy depends on us that we do that."

Harris, for his part, has repeatedly sought certification of the election, including a last-ditch petition before the swearing-in of the rest of the 116th Congress in Washington on Jan. 3. A judge denied that petition on Jan. 22.

Though he vehemently denies the allegations - especially of charges he knowingly hired compromised individuals - Harris has posted a video saying he'd "wholeheartedly support" a new election *if* the investigation finds fraud could've affected the outcome of the election.

"There is simply no public evidence of anything that brings Congressman-Elect Mark Harris' victory into question," Hayes said. "He will be certified and seated because he won. His opponent is bound and determined to overrule the will of the voters."

The uncertainty surrounding the race, was widened by another controversy in the state government: who can be the legal entity to investigate the allegations, oversee the hearing, judge the evidence and rule either on certification or a new election?

Per court order -- and new state law -- North Carolina elections are managed and safeguarded by a five-member Board of Elections and a separate Board of Ethics, with all members nominated by Gov. Roy Cooper. That law, however, didn't take effect until Jan. 31.

Cooper sent letters to state leaders of both Democrats and Republicans for names to be considered for a temporary five-member Board of Elections to continue the probe into how absentee ballots were gathered, but Republicans have been quick to denounce the effort as "unconstitutional" and proclaiming they won't be "bullied" into accepting nominations to an "interim" board.

The saga about the elections board dates to 2016 when Republicans tried to reduce the governor's role in managing elections in a Special Legislative Session after Cooper's election win against incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory. Then Gov.-Elect Cooper sued and ultimately won in court -- many times -- and a GOP-sponsored constitutional amendment failed to keep the changes.

The Ninth Congressional District includes parts of Fayetteville and covers several counties along the South Carolina state line into Mecklenburg County.

Susan Mills, a high school teacher living in Eastover, said she agrees with McCready that it is "shameful" that she's not represented in Congress yet - but she feels cheated because she voted for Mark Harris.

"I feel he won this race and there's no reason for him not to be seated," Mills told ABC11. "We deserve to have representation. We deserve to have a congressman. What is happening now is so unfair to us."

The newly-installed Board of Elections has scheduled the critical evidentiary hearing for Feb.18 in Raleigh, and officials told ABC11 it is possible the hearing could last up to the three days.
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