AILSA CHANG, HOST:
OK, we are almost a month past the midterm elections now, and some races still aren't settled. In North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 900 votes in the unofficial tally. But a number of irregularities have come to light since the election, so the race is up in the air while officials investigate potential fraud. NPR's Miles Parks has more.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: On election night, Republican Mark Harris thought his victory in North Carolina's 9th District was safe. He beamed as he looked at a map of the district. In the southern part of the state east of Charlotte, there was a flood of blue but with two red chunks on the edges.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARK HARRIS: And I have to say as I look at that map tonight, thank God for Bladen and Union County.
PARKS: But less than a month later, Bladen County's results are under scrutiny. The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously last week to delay certifying the election. The board is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member. Instead of finalizing the results, the board is investigating a number of anomalies related to vote-by-mail ballots based both on signed affidavits from voters and some fishy numbers. Michael Bitzer is a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. After rumblings began about potential voting irregularities with vote-by-mail ballots, Bitzer dove into the numbers to see if he found anything off. He did.
MICHAEL BITZER: There were some real issues and patterns that didn't seem to match up.
PARKS: Most notably, Mark Harris got 61 percent of the mail-in ballots in Bladen County. The problem is that only 19 percent of the voters who voted by mail were registered Republican. So for Harris to have ended up with that 61 percent, he would have had to win basically every single unaffiliated voter and some registered Democrats.
BITZER: Bladen County also had the second-highest level of nonreturned ballots in the district. So there's kind of a variety of issues going on.
PARKS: That statistic gets at the second part of the Board of Elections' investigation, that there could have been a concerted effort to prevent Democrats from submitting their absentee ballots. At least two voters have signed affidavits saying people came to them and asked to take their absentee ballots, which is illegal under state law. Republicans, including Dallas Woodhouse, who's the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, want the board to certify the results before the investigation is complete.
DALLAS WOODHOUSE: Mark Harris won more votes. He won more legal votes. And there are not enough ballots that can even possibly be in question to change the outcome of the race.
PARKS: That point is at the very least debatable as part of the investigation hinges on the possibility that some votes weren't returned. All of this comes after North Carolina voters this year approved a constitutional amendment to require photo ID for voters to vote in person. The measure was sold as a way to reduce election fraud. But Martha Kropf, an elections expert at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, says it wouldn't have had any effect in a situation like this.
MARTHA KROPF: When we're talking about the constitutional amendment that North Carolina voters considered, it was about voting in person.
PARKS: In terms of next steps, Bitzer says it's impossible to predict. But North Carolina law does say the board could call a new election if irregularities cast doubt on the outcome. Miles Parks, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.