- Republican Mark Harris said on Thursday that he supports holding a new election in the North Carolina congressional race he won by fewer than 1,000 votes.
- Harris’ call comes after a four-day hearing regarding alleged voter fraud conducted by a political operative he hired to boost voter turnout in a rural county.
- Harris’ son, John Harris, on Wednesday testified that he warned his father in the spring of 2017 that the operative’s practices were likely illegal. Harris hired the operative anyways.
After four days of eventful and emotional hearings concerning alleged fraud in a North Carolina congressional race, the state Board of Elections on Thursday voted to hold a new election in the contested ninth district that Republican Mark Harris won by fewer than 1,000 votes.
The state Board of Elections presented evidence that a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” orchestrated by a political operative hired by Harris helped swing the close race in the Republican’s favor.
Prior to the Board’s official vote, Harris also called for a new election.
“It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” Harris said during his testimony Thursday.
The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, allegedly paid people to collect and alter absentee ballots in rural Bladen County in violation of state law. The Harris campaign paid Dowless tens of thousands of dollars during the course of the election. Harris ultimately beat Democrat Dan McCready by 904 votes.
In one of the most stunning developments of the week, Harris’ son, John Harris, testified that he “raised red flags” with his parents about Dowless’ practices. John told Harris in an email that he believed Dowless’ operation, which involved collecting and mailing in voters’ absentee ballots, was likely illegal.
“The key thing that I am fairly certain they do that is illegal is that they collected the completed absentee ballots and mail them all at once,” John wrote in an April 7, 2017, email to his parents. John Harris, who is a federal prosecutor, said his parents believed Dowless assurances that his practices were above board, despite their son’s warnings.
“Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No, I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right,” he said.
John concluded, “I love my dad and I love my mom – I certainly have no vendetta against them … I think they made mistakes in this process and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.”
"I believe a new election should be called."
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 21, 2019
Mark Harris became emotional as his son spoke. The testimony contradicts statements Harris has made insisting that he was unaware of concerns about Dowless’ practices until after the election.
“We know that what Dr. Harris has been telling us, which is that no one warned him, is patently untrue,” McCready’s lawyer told the Board on Wednesday.
It also emerged this week that the Harris campaign withheld documents responsive to a subpoena the Board sent the campaign.
On Wednesday night, Harris’ campaign turned over a March 2017 email that Harris wrote in which he referred to “the guy whose absentee ballot project for Johnson could have put me in the US House this term, had I known, and he had been helping us.”
On Thursday, Harris testified that he believed his son was “overreacting” in 2017 and didn’t think his warnings were “red flags.”
“My 27-year-old son” is “a little judgmental and has a little taste of arrogance and some other things,” Harris said, according to the Washington Post. “And I’m very proud of him and love him with all my heart.”
Harris also said on Thursday he was not aware that payments he made to an independent PAC were illegal. He added that he didn’t seek any formal legal advice regarding Dowless’ absentee ballot activities.
Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, said this week’s hearings have revealed “a campaign that didn’t have any controls over the logistics and personnel.”
“We thought this evidentiary hearing would have some fireworks, but it’s more like bombs that have been dropped pretty much every day since Monday,” he told INSIDER. “I think a lot of us knew that the hearing would have some real surprises, but I think most of us have been really stunned at how these things have unfolded.”
— The News & Observer (@newsobserver) February 20, 2019
On Thursday afternoon, Harris said he supports holding a new election.
Elections experts found that while 19% of absentee voters in Bladen County were registered Republicans, 62% of the County’s mailed-in ballots were votes for Harris and the GOP.
Dowless, court records show, is a convicted felon who has faced jail time for fraud and perjury. He has denied any wrongdoing in last year’s election. He’s refused to testify before the state board.
After mail-in ballot irregularities emerged following November’s election, the board of elections voted unanimously to refuse to certify Harris’ win.
Several district residents have described having their absentee ballots collected, also known as “ballot harvesting,” which is illegal in North Carolina. Speaking to local news station WSOC 9, a Charlotte ABC affiliate, Cheryl Kinlaw, a woman who said she was paid $100 to collect the ballots from voters, said she didn’t think this was illegal because Dowless “has been doing it for years.”
“I feel bad now that I know that it wasn’t legal, but I didn’t know at the time,” she said.