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House Dems may balk at seating North Carolina's Harris

Even if North Carolina's Mark Harris somehow prevails, despite possible election fraud, that doesn't mean the U.S. House will recognize and honor the results.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The controversy surrounding the U.S. House race in North Carolina's 9th district is turning into one of the year's most important electoral scandals. As the dust settled on Election Day, it appeared last month that former far-right pastor Mark Harris (R) had narrowly defeated Dan McCready (D), but credible accusations of election fraud have put those results in doubt.

The latest revelations about alleged wrongdoing from Harris' aides have led state election officials to hold off before certifying the results, and those same officials have reportedly begun issuing subpoenas in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what transpired.

But this morning, as the Washington Post  reported, a leading House Democrat raised the prospect of an additional wrinkle.

The incoming House majority leader said Democrats might refuse to seat a North Carolina Republican next year unless and until "substantial" questions about the integrity of his election are resolved.Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the current minority whip, made the comments to reporters Tuesday as North Carolina election officials investigate whether an operative hired by Republican candidate Mark Harris illegally collected incomplete ballots from voters.

Hoyer said this morning,. "If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved."

In nearly every instance, there is no question about the legitimacy of a congressional election. One candidate prevails, his or her victory is certified, and he or she is welcomed on Capitol Hill.

But in the face of serious allegations, Congress has the authority to launch its own investigations of election results. To that end, it can also try to block apparent winners from taking office and call for a "do-over" election.

In modern history, such circumstances are extraordinarily rare. The last time Congress tried to block a winning U.S. House candidate from taking office was after the 1966 midterms, when Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) faced accusations of corruption. When he won re-election anyway, the House tried to block him, leading Powell to launch a successful lawsuit.

There was a similar controversy in the 1920s, when voters in Milwaukee elected Victor Berger, a socialist. The House tried to block him, too, but he was eventually seated anyway.

Neither of these cases, however, dealt with evidence of election fraud. The controversy surrounding Mark Harris is obviously quite different.

As for do-over elections, there was a U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire that was extraordinarily close, and which was eventually decided by a re-vote. More recently, in 2002, a court ordered a do-over primary election in a Chicago congressional primary after a judge determined that "some ballots were not counted, some were lost before an official recount and others were mistakenly cast by voters who didn't live in the district."

Of course, just because something is unusual doesn't mean it can't, or won't, happen.