- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2019

Months of conflict and confusion over a fraud-tainted House race in North Carolina ended Thursday with the State Board of Elections ordering a new election.

The five-member board’s unanimous vote for a redo capped a monthslong investigation and four days of dramatic testimony before the board about an absentee ballot scheme linked to the campaign of Republican Mark Harris.

The Nov. 6 results that showed Mr. Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes have been in limbo because of fraud allegations, leaving the 9th Congressional District seat empty in the new Congress.

The board was tasked with reviewing the evidence and deciding whether to certify the Nov. 6 results or order a new election in the district, which spans the area between Charlotte and Fayetteville.

Shortly before the vote, Chairman Bob Cordle said the “illegal activity” that the board uncovered undoubtedly had “tainted the results of the entire election.”

“I believe the people of North Carolina deserve a fair election and deserve to have their votes counted properly,” he said.

It’s rare for a state to call a new election to resolve a disputed House race.

The last time was in the 1974 election for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District, when a malfunctioning voting machine caused a disputed outcome and a state court ordered a new election.

Mr. Harris fought tooth and nail to have his Nov. 6 win certified, including mounting a court challenge, but he abruptly reversed course at Thursday’s hearing.

“Through the testimony I have listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called. It has become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” he said.

The reversal followed inconsistencies in Mr. Harris’ testimony and revelations that his campaign attorney withheld documents relevant to the investigation.

After spending three hours on the stand Thursday, Mr. Harris returned from an extended lunch break and said he had a change of heart. He also announced that he was hospitalized last month with a severe infection and suffered two strokes.

“Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing and am getting stronger, I clearly am not, and I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion,” he said.

Mr. Harris maintained that neither he nor leaders of his campaign knew about the scheme to “harvest” absentee ballots — illegal in North Carolina — that allegedly was orchestrated by political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless.

Red Dome Group, a consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign, contracted Mr. Dowless to run the absentee ballots operation.

Mr. Dowless refused to testify at the hearings. His attorney, Cynthia Adams Singletary, told reporters that he denies wrongdoing.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said he respected Mr. Harris’ decision.

“This has been a tremendously difficult situation for all involved, and we wish him the best as he recovers from his illness and subsequent complications,” he said. “We will continue to work with legislators and investigators on how we can improve the electoral system so that these kinds of situations can be avoided in the future.”

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the wrongdoing was traced to Mr. Harris and the Republican Party.

“North Carolina Republicans, following Mark Harris’ lead, repeatedly lied to the people of the 9th District, silenced their voices and undermined our entire state’s faith in our democracy. This saga could only have ended in a new election, and we look forward to repairing the harm dealt by Republicans and giving the people of the 9th District the representative they deserve,” he said.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, cheered the decision for the new election.

“It’s no surprise that Mark Harris is throwing in the towel and calling for a new election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Over the past four days, the evidence of rampant absentee ballot fraud continued to mount and made clear that the outcome of this election was completely illegitimate,” she said. “The lesson that all Americans should take from this is that ballot fraud and voter suppression remain rampant in our country and stand as grave threats to our democracy.”

The board will set the date of the election at a future meeting.

Earlier, Mr. Harris testified that Mr. Dowless had assured him they were not breaking the law.

“He said we don’t touch ballots or take ballots,” he said.

Documents and testimony presented by election officials indicated otherwise. They included cases of collecting absentee ballots and filling in ballots for some voters.

It is illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a voter or a close relative to mail in an absentee ballot, but that’s what they did, according to testimony by workers involved in the scheme.

Election Director Kim Strach has called it “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”

As he planned his 2018 run, Mr. Harris said he was introduced to Mr. Dowless as a “good ol’ boy” who “eats, lived, slept and drank politics.”

Mr. Dowless had a reputation for running an aggressive and proven operation to boost turnout and absentee ballot voting.

Andy Yates, co-founder and senior partner at Red Dome Group, testified that he did not know what Mr. Dowless was doing.

Mr. Harris’ son John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, testified Wednesday that he warned his father that the absentee ballot drive looked fishy.

The elder Mr. Harris did not heed the warning.

The son’s testimony also contradicted Mr. Harris’ repeated claim that no one ever raised red flags about what Mr. Dowless was doing.

“I had no reason to believe that my father or mother knew Dowless was doing the things that have been described,” the son said. “I think they were lied to, and they believed the person who lied to them.”

On the stand Thursday, the elder Mr. Harris said he considered discussions with his 27-year-old son to be “family conversations” and not warnings.

“I just believed he was overreacting,” Mr. Harris said.

He added that he was “very proud” of his son for his legal career and his performance on the stand.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide