With allegations that absentee ballot fraud may have delivered victory to a new Republican lawmaker from North Carolina, and a newly-elected GOP member admitting he broke federal campaign fundraising laws during his 2018 election bid in Florida, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that it's possible neither of the Republicans who won those races in November will be sworn-in when the 116th Congress convenes in January.
"The House still retains the right to decide who is seated. That is one of the powers of the House of Representatives," said Pelosi, who is in line to be Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress, which convenes on January 3, 2019.
The election questions surround Republican Mark Harris, who won a 905 vote victory in North Carolina's Ninth District, but has seen his victory questioned as examples of absentee ballot fraud surfaced in two counties - and Florida Republican Ross Spano, who admitted in recent days that he broke federal campaign laws by taking $180,000 in loans during 2018, and then funneled most of that money into his campaign by labeling it as 'personal funds.'
"It's not just the Democrats that have a problem with what went on in North Carolina, it's the Republicans, too," Pelosi observed, noting that there is evidence of possible absentee ballot fraud in the GOP primary which led to the defeat of Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC).
"This issue in Florida is one that we are tracking as well," Pelosi added, as the Spano admission late last week that he broke federal election laws has also prompted complaints from some of the Republicans whom he defeated in the GOP primary for Florida's 15th Congressional District.
"This small man thinks he can break the law and get sent to Congress,” said GOP primary loser Neil Combee, who called Spano ‘a dirty criminal.’
"Like #NC09 the fraud was perpetrated on Democrats and his Republican primary opponent," said Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida.
While the victory by Harris in North Carolina has not yet been certified, Spano is planning on being in the 116th Congress - but that could change on January 3.
"Any member-elect can object to the seating of another member-elect," Pelosi noted about the North Carolina and Florida seats, as she said the House Administration Committee would be ready to investigate any election questions in the new Congress.
Not only could those two Republican winners face objections, but that could also extend to newly-elected Democrat Jared Golden, who defeated GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine, where Republicans are still angry about losing in an instant runoff process known as 'ranked choice voting.'
Poliquin and others in the GOP have complained that the 'ranked choice voting' process is unconstitutional - that runoff plan was approved twice by voters in statewide balloting in Maine.
Pelosi made clear that she felt Republican complaints about the outcome in Maine was based on one thing - that the GOP lost.
"We're operating on three fronts, Pelosi said, referring to the possible challenges to the winners from North Carolina, Florida, and Maine.
If any of those members face an objection on the floor, the House could set up a special panel to investigate; while there have been a series of minor challenges in the last 35 years, two election investigations in the House stand out from the rest:
+ In 1984, Republicans won Indiana’s 8th Congressional District by just 34 votes. Democrats in the U.S. House created a three member panel to review the race, and ruled after a recount that the Democrat had won by four votes. That result prompted a GOP walkout, and created partisan turmoil in the Congress.
+ In 1998, Rep. Bob Dornan (R-CA) bitterly contested his election defeat to Democrat Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). But a three member panel set up by the House GOP ruled against Dornan, who had charged that he lost due to voter fraud and illegally cast ballots.
"Republicans have been speaking out for years against nonexistent voter fraud," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). "But amid multiple reports of credible evidence of election fraud from their party, they’re silent.'