RALEIGH, N.C. — A U.S. House member signaled Friday that Congress may ultimately resolve the nation's last undecided congressional race.
The head of the House Administration Committee, Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, asked North Carolina elections officials to preserve all original notes, recordings or documents used in investigating allegations of ballot fraud in the state's 9th District. The U.S. House may also investigate and ultimately determine the rightful winner of the disputed seat, Lofgren wrote to the state elections board's executive director.
"The Committee is acutely aware of its responsibilities and rights concerning the eventual seating of House Members in disputed or vacant seats," Lofgren wrote in a letter released Friday by the North Carolina elections board.
"Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance that the Board and all parties handling such evidence preserve and protect said material for future inspection by the House, this Committee, and its designated agents."
Sworn statements by voters and other witnesses have suggested mail-in ballots could have been altered or discarded.
Republican Mark Harris holds a narrow lead over Democrat Dan McCready. A winner hasn't been declared pending investigations into an unusually large number of absentee ballots that were requested and never returned, as well as the large advantage Harris has among absentee votes in two of the district's rural counties, Bladen and Robeson.
Bladen County Elections Board Chairman Bobby Ludlum said in a sworn affidavit released Friday that several absentee ballot request forms dropped off ahead of November's general election were forged. The three forged forms were among 165 requests for mail-in ballots delivered by a woman the Republican election official didn't name.
"One of the three was for a relative of mine who told me that two women had asked if he wanted to request a form. He said no," said Ludlum's affidavit, which was released by an attorney for Harris's campaign.
Ludlum's statement confirms part of an earlier affidavit by Jens Lutz, a Democrat who was the county elections board's vice chairman before resigning abruptly last month.
Both a subcontractor working last fall for Harris and a black empowerment group supporting Democrats submitted clusters of absentee ballot requests, a legal practice.
Ludlum also denied telling county Democratic Party Chairman Ben Snyder that Leslie McCrae Dowless, the local political operative working for Harris who is named as a target of the state investigation, discarded absentee ballots.
"I am not aware of anyone in Bladen County ever throwing ballots in the trash or stating that they have thrown absentee ballots or any type of ballot in the trash," Ludlum said.
Voters have said in other affidavits that Dowless or people working for him collected ballots that were blank, incomplete or stuffed in unsealed envelopes.
Ludlum disputed other claims by Lutz that local elections workers were lax about protecting the security of completed absentee ballots. Ludlum, Lutz and the county elections board's two other members voted unanimously last year that an unlocked door between the ballot storage room and another government office should be secured and an alarm and security cameras installed.
County officials refused to spend the money, however. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which assessed the site shortly before this year's election, said in a report obtained by The Associated Press that the unlocked door made voting materials vulnerable.
Ludlum also disputed Lutz's claim that Dowless enjoyed close relationships to key local elections workers, and that they allowed him to copy ballot request forms complete with voter's signatures and social security and driver's license numbers. Lutz said those details could give Dowless the ability to request mail-in ballots for anyone who has ever voted that way in recent years.
Neither Dowless "nor any other unauthorized person was allowed to take and copy un-redacted absentee ballot request forms with confidential information on them," Ludlum's statement said. "Dowless was not given greater access to absentee ballot or other information than was given to other citizens."
Ludlum's lawyers on Friday refused to confirm news reports that he and Dowless are cousins.