(Reuters) - A Democratic U.S. congressman on Wednesday called for an emergency hearing into claims of fraud in a North Carolina election where the state is probing alleged improper handling of ballots by political operatives.
Almost a month after Republican Mark Harris declared victory in his North Carolina race for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state's election board is declining to certify the result as it probes mail-in ballots from two rural counties that have been called into question.
Democratic U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia on Wednesday called for an emergency congressional hearing into the matter, accusing national Republicans including President Donald Trump of hypocrisy for ignoring the case after years of claiming voter fraud without evidence.
"While the Republican majority is once again chasing conspiracies, real election fraud is playing out right before us in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District," Connolly said in a statement. He added that minority and elderly voters appeared to have been targeted, and "a cloud of doubt and suspicion hangs over this election result."
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed large numbers of illegal immigrants have cast ballots and raised the specter of election fraud during routine but protracted vote counts after the Nov. 6 elections.
Leading House Democrat Steny Hoyer on Tuesday said his party may not seat Harris if the election remains in question when Democrats take control of the lower chamber in January.
The contest will not affect the balance of power in the new Congress. Democrats already gained enough seats to take control of the House, while Republicans expanded their Senate majority.
Based on an initial tally, Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.
That was before residents of rural Bladen County provided sworn affidavits that people came to their homes and collected absentee ballots that they had not filled in. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
North Carolina's board of elections is also investigating concerns about ballot collection, as well as unusually high interest in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties. State officials plan a hearing by Dec. 21.
The state could order a new election. The U.S. House could also rule on the election outcome.
Representatives of Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform committee that would convene a hearing into the matter, did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)