Mark Harris pursuing two paths to end 9th District controversy
Republican Mark Harris said Thursday that he had a “good meeting” with state elections officials investigating the results of the 9th Congressional District race.
The meeting came shortly after Harris’ lawyers filed legal documents with Wake County Superior Court, asking that the results of the 9th District race be certified immediately and he be declared the winner, despite the ongoing investigation.
Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes after Election Day. But state elections officials are looking into absentee ballot results in the 9th District race, particularly in Bladen and Robeson counties, where a Harris campaign operative allegedly sent people door to door to collect mail-in ballots.
“We want to cooperate. We want to help with the investigation any way we can,” Harris told reporters while declining to say what was discussed during the nearly-two-hour meeting.
The Harris campaign has been under subpoena from the elections board since Dec. 1, and attorney David Freedman said they still are compiling an estimated 140,000 documents that investigators have requested.
“We will be here as many times as they ask us to come down,” Freedman said. “We will provide anything and will be open about everything with Dr. Harris and his campaign.”
Harris, a Charlotte pastor, has said repeatedly that he did no wrong, but he has acknowledged bringing McCrae Dowless on board to run absentee operations in Bladen County. Affidavits and interviews point to Dowless as the center of a ballot-harvesting operation in the 9th District last year, as well as in various races in past elections.
Harris said Thursday that it’s up to investigators to determine if Dowless broke any laws.
Although elections officials continue to gather evidence in the investigation, there is no elections board in place to conduct a hearing – a hearing set for next week was canceled on Wednesday – or make a final ruling in the case.
Following nearly two years of legal wrangling by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders, a court ruled in October that the structure of the elections board was unconstitutional, and the judges ordered the board dissolved as of last Friday. They had held off on finalizing their ruling until after the elections, but they said they couldn’t let the board keep going indefinitely, even with the 9th District results in doubt.
A new state law restructuring the elections board to comply with the court ruling doesn’t take effect until Jan. 31.
“We kind of found ourselves in no man’s land, if you will, and we’ve asked the court to step in,” Harris said.
His lawyers submitted a petition for a writ of mandamus to the court on Thursday. A writ of mandamus is a court order for a government agency to fulfill its duties.
“We didn’t file anything with the court until we had nowhere else to go,” Freedman said. “There is no board. There is nowhere else to go.”
Harris said the investigation shouldn’t stop him from being declared the winner in the 9th District.
“In think, in every election, there are certain things that come up that are investigated,” he said, noting that some actions from the 2016 elections remain under investigation but haven’t prevented someone from serving in office.
“We think there should be no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome because, again, there’s an investigation that’s been going on now for weeks into what may or may not have occurred in the 9th Congressional District,” he added.
The 116th Congress was sworn in Thursday, and the 9th District is the only one of the 435 seats in the U.S. House that remains open.
“Instead of standing here,” Freedman said outside the state elections board office in Raleigh, “he should be in [Washington] D.C. being sworn in.”
Although a new elections board is expected to be in place by Jan. 31, Freedman said there’s no telling how long it could take for the investigation to be wrapped up and the 9th District results certified. So, action needs to be taken to fill the empty congressional seat, he said.
Leaders of the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House have said they won’t seat Harris until the allegations of election fraud have been resolved.
“This is something that shouldn’t be about political party,” Harris said, adding that residents of the 9th District need representation.
Citing the investigation, McCready tweeted that Harris “is not the victim here, the voters are.”
Harris was targeted in negative campaign ads in his 2016 campaign for the seat, but he said allegations that he participated in fraud have been harder for him to handle. Still, he said, he expects the investigation to vindicate him.
“I don’t have anything that’s more valuable to me than my good name,” he said. “I intend to stand on my good name.”