AP NEWS

N.C. board orders new election in House race

February 21, 2019

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to hold a new election in a House race tainted by ballot fraud.

The vote by the three Democrats and two Republicans on the board ended nearly three months of fighting over the Nov. 6 election results that showed Republican Mark Harris beating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

The previous board refused to certify the results because of an absentee-ballot scheme linked to the Harris campaign.

The decision for a do-over election in the 9th Congressional District followed four days of hearings in which documents and witnesses detailed how a political operative linked to the Harris campaign, Leslie McCrae Dowless, ran a scheme to “harvest” absentee ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina.

In an abrupt reversal just prior to the vote, Mr. Harris gave up his fight to claim the House seat and voiced support for a new election.

“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,” Mr. Harris, a former pastor, said statement he read from the witness stand.

Mr. Harris insisted that he and leaders of his campaign were unaware of the alleged misconduct by Mr. Dowless.

The reversal followed revelations that the Harris campaign attorney had withheld documents relevant to the investigation.

Mr. Harris insisted that he and leaders of his campaign were unaware of the alleged misconduct of a political operative.

The reversal followed revelations that the Harris campaign attorney had withheld documents relevant to the investigation.

After spending three hours on the stand Thursday, Mr. Harris said inconsistencies in his testimony were due to a severe infection and two strokes that put him in the hospital last month.

“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.

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

“He said we don’t touch ballots or take ballots,” said Mr. Harris, a former pastor.

Mr. Dowless apparently lied to the candidate, according to evidence presented by election officials at the hearing.

The dispute over the Nov. 6 election kept the 9th District seat empty since the new Congress convened Jan. 3.

As he planned his run in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, Mr. Harris said Mr. Dowless was introduced to him 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.

Election Director Kim Strach has called Mr. Dowless’ program “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”

In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone other than a voter or close relative to mail in an absentee ballot.

But that’s what they did, according to testimony by workers involved in the scheme.

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

Andy Yates, co-founder and senior partner at Red Dome Group, testified that he also 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.

“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 was “very proud” of his son.