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Politics

Dispatches: Election Board Calls For New 9th District Vote

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Raleigh News & Observer
Republican Mark Harris testifies today as the state elections board enters another day of hearings into allegations of election fraud in the 9th Congressional District.

Republican Mark Harris testifies today as the state elections board enters another day of hearings into allegations of election fraud in the 9th Congressional District. WFAE's Steve Harrison is covering the hearing in Raleigh. Check back throughout the day for live updates. 

 Updated 4:57 p.m. 

North Carolina's elections board Thursday ordered a new election in the nation's last undecided congressional race after the Republican candidate conceded his lead was tainted by evidence of ballot-tampering by political operatives working for him.

The State Board of Elections voted 5-0 in favor of a do-over in the mostly rural 9th Congressional District but did not immediately set a date.

In moving to order a new election, board chairman Bob Cordle cited "the corruption, the absolute mess with the absentee ballots."

"Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina," the Democrat in the race, Dan McCready, tweeted afterward. He said the voters deserved justice "from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud."

The vote came after GOP candidate Mark Harris, in a surprising turn, dropped his bid to be declared the winner and instead called for a new election. He reversed course on the fourth day of an election board hearing at which investigators and witnesses detailed evidence of ballot fraud by operatives on his payroll.

"Through the testimony I've listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called," Harris said. "It's 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."

At the same time, Harris denied any knowledge of the illegal practices allegedly used by his operatives.

Harris left the hearing room without answering questions. It was not immediately clear whether he intends to run in a new election.

The decision Thursday could leave the seat empty for months. The elections board's attorney plans to review the laws on scheduling new primaries and a new general election and propose dates to the elections board for its approval.

Harris led McCready by 905 votes out of about 280,000 cast last fall in a district that includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward through several counties along the southern edge of the state. But the state refused to certify the outcome as allegations surfaced that Harris political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless may have tampered with mail-in absentee ballots.

-- Emery P. Dalesio/Associated Press

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Following a unanimous vote by the North Carolina Board of Elections calling for a new election in NC-09, Dan McCready issued the following statement:

 
“From the moment the first vote was stolen in North Carolina, from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud, the people have deserved justice. Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”
 
[Related Content: New Election Called In North Carolina House Race]

Updated 4:25 p.m.

Besides the 9th Congressional District race, the election's board vote also means new elections in two other races: the Bladen County County Commission District 3 and the Bladen Soil & Water Conservation Board.

The board also could consider further action in Bladen County. Before the vote, Democratic board member Stella Anderson called for the board to "seriously consider" taking over appointments and oversight of the Bladen County Board of Elections.

Updated 4:06 p.m.

The five-member N.C. Board of Elections has voted unanimously for a new election in the 9th Congressional District race. 

The election board vote came after four days of hearings, capped by GOP candidate Mark Harris' statement calling for a new election because "the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."

Updated 3:35 p.m.
 

Harris read his statement immediately after the board finished a 30-minute closed session meeting.

Before lunch, Board of Elections attorney Joshua Lawson asked Harris if he had spoken with anyone about the emails between him and his son John Harris, and whether those emails would be included in documents that the Harris campaign had turned over to the board to comply with a subpoena.

Harris said he did not recall that.

Lawson then asked him the same question multiple times.

After that, Harris' attorney David Freedman asked for a recess.

The emails in question were discussed Wednesday during the hearing. In those emails, John Harris wrote his father, urging him not to hire McCrae Dowless for his campaign. John Harris told his father in writing that he believed Dowless was “likely” harvesting ballots.

But the Harris campaign had not given those emails to the board of elections. John Harris brought them to the board this week, believing that the board of elections already had them.

In his statement, Mark Harris said that he had spoken with his other son Matthew Harris about the emails on Feb. 18.

After calling for a new election, Harris left the chamber without speaking. As he walked down the stairs, a reporter asked him whether he intends to run if the board calls for a new election.

Mark Harris’s wife, Beth, said, “We have to think about it.”

Updated 2:52

Dispatches: Election Board Calls For New 9th District Vote
Republican Mark Harris calls for new election, saying, "It's become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined."

Mark Harris calls for a new election, saying it's become clear to him that the public's confidence in the general election for the 9th Congressional District seat has been undermined.

Full Statement From Harris:

It's been brought to my attention that I talked to my son, my younger son Matthew that I referenced earlier,  two nights ago about the fact that I did not think John's e-mails would be part of this hearing. Obviously I was incorrect in my recollection and I wholeheartedly apologize to this board.

On January 18th I went to the hospital after battling what we thought was bronchitis and developed a severe infection that actually caused me to become septic. In the process of that illness I experienced two strokes from which I'm still recovering. Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing and getting stronger. I clearly am not and I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion.

Neither I nor any of the leadership of my campaign were aware of or condone the improper activities that have been testified to in this hearing. Through the testimony I've listened to over the past three days, I believe the new election should be called. It's 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. Chairman, that concludes my statement.

Updated 2:45

Harris said he first learned that his son John Harris would be testifying was at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night. John Harris testified on Wednesday.

Harris said he was on the phone with his youngest son, who told him that John Harris had been subpoenaed. The younger son said he told Mark Harris that John Harris was going to testify, and he didn’t want his dad to be shocked.

A key part of Wednesday’s testimony were several emails from John Harris to Mark Harris warning his father not to hire McCrae Dowless.

But those emails were given to the state board but John Harris – not by the Harris campaign.

Elections board attorney Joshua Lawson asked if Harris thought the emails had been given to the state.

“Yes,” Harris said. “I thought they were part of the document delivery.”

Board member Jeff Carmon asked Harris about media interviews Harris gave about Dowless. In those interviews, he said no one raised concerns about Dowless.

“This is painful to ask,” Carmon said. “You said no one had any concerns, and no one told you anything. Is that what you meant to say?”

Harris said he considered his conversations with John Harris as private family conversations.

He also said that he loves John Harris, but added that John can be a “little judgmental” and at times arrogant.

“I believed he was overreacting,” Mark Harris said.

Carmon then asked Harris if he “just wanted to win.” 

Updated 11:58 a.m.
 

Republican Mark Harris is on the stand. Harris tells the board he was warned by his son to make sure that the political operative Harris was interested in hiring was abiding by the law, but Harris says he was assured by the operative, McCrae Dowless, that his absentee ballot program was entirely legal.

Harris was asked to reflect on those emails and phone conversations with his son.

"Well sitting here four days into this meeting, I - you know - my son was a bit prophetic in his statement that day. And I read it again, that he was saying, make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re being presented here, and what risks may come."

The political operative at the center of the allegations has refused to testify before the state board of elections. We’ll have more updates throughout the day on air and online.

Updated 10:35 a.m.

Mark Harris is testifying about his first meeting with Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless.

Harris said he met Dowless at Bladen Commissioner Ray Britt’s furniture store. Harris said Dowless told him that he had a unique “labor-intensive” program that targeted “low-intensity” voters.

Harris said Dowless told him about phase 1 and phase 2 of his “program,” and he said Dowless told him that his employees would never collect ballots.

“We don’t pay by the hour around here, because if you do, they will just sit under a tree,” Harris said Dowless told him.

Board of Elections director Kim Strach asked Harris if they talked about how much money phase 2 would cost. Phase 2 involved Dowless sending his employees back to people’s homes to make sure they vote.

Harris said they never talked about how much phase 2 would cost.

“I didn’t work out his salary,” Harris said about Dowless. “(Andy Yates) negotiated that fee structure.”

Before Harris testified, board members criticized Harris attorneys for not turning over documents as part of a subpoena.  

Harris’s son, John Harris, had submitted e-mails to the board that hadn’t been turned over by the Harris campaign.

Updated: 10:00 a.m.

The fourth day of a hearing examining allegations of fraud in the 9th District Congressional race got underway this morning with the state board of elections asking attorneys for Mark Harris and his campaign why they didn’t provide documents requested as part of a subpoena.

When the Republican Mark Harris’ son John Harris testified yesterday, the board of elections cited several e-mails that John Harris had sent his father. But those e-mails were given to the board of elections by John Harris – and not by the Harris campaign.

Joshua Lawson, the attorney for the N.C. Board of Elections, wrote to the Harris campaign that the Harris campaign’s late release of documents “raises significant and material concerns regarding the committee’s compliance and candor.”

Two of Harris’ attorneys said they weren’t responsible. A third attorney apologized to the board for the missing documents.

Mark Harris is expected to testify today.

Updated: 9 a.m.

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Credit Raleigh News & Observer
John Harris, Republican Mark Harris' son, said warned his father about Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless.

Republican Mark Harris was supposed to take the stand yesterday, but the testimony of his son John Harris lasted for hours. John Harris, an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina,

said he'd been suspicious of illegal ballot activity in Bladen County after the 2016 GOP Primary. Then-candidate Todd Johnson, who finished third, received 221 of 226 absentee mail ballots in Bladen County. 

John Harris said he told his father to "make sure [his] lawyers looked at Bladen County." He also said he'd been suspicious of political operative McCrae Dowless, who he believed had illegally collected ballots. Mark Harris hired Dowless to lead a get-out-the-vote effort in Bladen County that focused on absentee mail ballots.

In previous testimonies, Dowless' employees have said they'd been paid to illegally collect absentee ballots and committed a number of fraudulent activities with them, including forging witness signatures and filling in incomplete ballots.

John Harris' testimony differed from an interview Harris gave to WFAE in January, where he said no one warned him about Dowless after the 2016 GOP Primary. 

Mark Harris is expected to testify later today.

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