North Carolina Elections Board Dissolves, Adding New Chaos in House Race

The unwinding of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement was a consequence of a long-running battle over partisan power in North Carolina and separate from the election fraud investigation. Yet the dissolution heightened the possibility that the Ninth District seat would remain empty for weeks or even months, and it plunged the chaotic fight for the House seat into deeper turmoil.

“We have entered no man’s land,” said J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. “It is symptomatic of the bigger partisan polarization that we are living in and experiencing hour by hour in this state.”

The board’s dissolution on Friday only complicated the clash over the Ninth District, where Mark Harris, the Republican nominee for Congress, appeared to defeat Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, by 905 votes in last month’s general election. But state officials have been investigating whether a contractor for Mr. Harris engaged in illegal activity to compromise the election on the Republican’s behalf. According to witnesses and affidavits, the contractor, L. McCrae Dowless Jr., and people working for him collected absentee ballots in violation of state law.

The allegations of misconduct prompted the elections board to refuse to certify Mr. Harris as the winner, and to order an inquiry. That investigation has involved more than 100 interviews and at least 182,000 pages of records, and state officials said Friday that it would continue at the staff level, even if a board was not in place to consider evidence and chart a way forward.

“The staff will continue to investigate the Ninth District irregularities and perform all other elections-related functions,” said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the state board.

No one has been charged in connection with the allegations, including Mr. Dowless, who has a history of convictions for fraud and perjury and was previously scrutinized by the authorities for possible election tampering. Mr. Dowless, who has declined to comment, refused a request to meet with state investigators.

Around the time of the board’s dissolution on Friday, Joshua D. Malcolm, the Democrat who was chairman of the panel, complained that Mr. Harris’s campaign had not been forthcoming with information that investigators demanded with a subpoena.

Mr. Malcolm, in a letter to a lawyer for the campaign, said investigators had received 398 pages of campaign records — and believed there were about 140,000 other documents that “may be responsive but have not yet been produced.”

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