The contested race from the North Carolina ninth district is getting a do-over. Republican Mark Harris led in the vote count last November when allegations of voter fraud led the state board of elections to refuse to certify the results of the race. Now the board has unanimously called for a new election.
As Resurgent reported at the time, there was strong evidence of absentee ballot fraud on behalf of the Harris campaign. Sworn affidavits from voters alleged that Harris campaign workers picked up absentee ballots from voters, a violation of North Carolina law. Some voters also say that the campaign workers completed their ballots for them, which is also illegal.
The fraud, which was centered on Bladen County, is allegedly linked to a Harris staffer named Leslie McCrae Dowless. The Charlotte Observer noted that candidates who employ Dowless have a history of doing abnormally well with Bladen County absentee voters. Dowless was previously accused of tampering with absentee ballots in 2016 and was convicted of insurance fraud in 1992.
Statistics also pointed to fraud. Michael Blitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, analyzed the absentee voting and found that Bladen County had a much higher share of absentee ballots than the other counties in the district. Seven percent of Bladen’s registered voters asked for absentee ballots compared with about three percent statewide.
Even though Bladen County Republicans requested only 19 percent of absentee ballots, Harris received 61 percent of the absentee mail vote there. What’s more, Bladen County was the only county in the district where Harris won the absentee mail vote. FiveThirtyEight noticed the same discrepancies in the Bladen returns.
Amid the controversy, Democrats said in December that they would refuse to seat Harris if the election results were certified by the state. This position left little choice for the state but to have a new election.
After initially opposing a new election, Harris relented last week. His change of heart came hours after state officials said that the Harris campaign had withheld documents relevant to the investigation of the fraud. Harris’ campaign attorney denied that the failure to provide the documents was intentional.
A new North Carolina law requires a primary in election do-overs so the upcoming matchup may not see Harris in a rematch against Democrat Dan McCready. It isn’t yet clear if Harris will run again, but McCready is already fundraising. Politico reports that the Democrat has raised $500,000 in new campaign contributions since he withdrew his concession.
Democrats and Republicans both agree that a new election is needed in the district. “It certainly was a tainted election,” said board chairman Bob Cordle, a Democrat. “I believe the people of North Carolina deserve a fair election.”
David Black, a Republican member of the board, agreed, saying, "This did not help the reputation of North Carolina, but we've turned the corner now."
Originally published on The Resurgent