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Politics

Mark Harris' Son Testifies In 9th Congressional District Hearing

John Harris

In the third day of the North Carolina Board of Elections hearing into fraud in the 9 th Congressional District, Mark Harris's son said he repeatedly warned his father not to hire Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless.

John Harris said he thought Dowless was breaking the law and he was worried he would ultimately harm his father.

At the end of his dramatic testimony, John Harris said that he had no vendetta against his parents.

On the night of his father's narrow loss in the 2016 Republican primary, John Harris began studying election results, particularly the absentee by mail vote in Bladen County.

In that race, another Republican, Todd Johnson, received 221 of 226 absentee mail votes in Bladen. To John Harris, who is now an assistant U.S. Attorney in Raleigh, that result seemed improbable especially since Johnson finished third. He texted his father that night, writing that things "looked strange" in Bladen. He first thought the Board of Elections made a mistake.

John Harris then did more research, and found that many Bladen absentee ballots were returned in batches, on the same day.

Here is John Harris, being questioned by Dan McCready lawyer Marc Elias.

"I had looked at the data where I say the batching. And so I believed at this point that ballot collection had occurred. And ballot collection is fraud under North Carolina law. Ballot collection is illegal, and a felony."

John Harris had discovered that Johnson had hired a political operative named McCrae Dowless.

Months later, after the November 2016 election, Pat McCrory's campaign sent an email to supporters alleging election fraud in Bladen County. That fraud complaint was formally made by Dowless about a Democratic group, and John Harris and his father exchanged emails about it.

In one exchange, Mark Harris wrote about Dowless's absentee mail program - putting quotations around those words. Harris also wrote that he didn't think Dowless liked the Democrats "cutting into his business."

Here is John Harris discussing those emails with Kim Strach, the state board of elections executive director.

J. Harris: I forwarded this to my dad and said preaching to the choir.

Kim Strack: That's what I wanted to ask you abut. What did you mean by that?

J. Harris: I meant by that, that I thought at that point, certainly by this point, I thought we to a certain extent had been the victims' of a massive voting fraud scheme so to speak.

Months later, in the spring of 2017, Mark Harris was considering running again for Congress. He also was thinking about hiring Dowless.

That really concerned John Harris. He said he thought that if his father beat Robert Pittenger, then Pittenger could connect Dowless to him in a negative way. And John Harris was really concerned that Dowless had broken the law, and would continue to do so.

He wrote to this father that Dowless' tactics regarding mail ballots placed the operative and any potential candidate on "thin ice." He also sent him an email that explained in detail that harvesting ballots in North Carolina was a felony.

"And I told him that collecting ballots was a felony and I would send him the statute that showed that collecting ballots was a felony. I will also say that I do remember in that conversation having some discussion and I don't frankly remember much about this but at least I learned at that point that Mr. Dowless had a criminal conviction of some sort."

There was a year between Mark Harris losing the 2016 Republican primary and then deciding to run again and hire Dowless.

In that time, John Harris testified that he told his father that he thought Dowless was breaking the law.

In earlier testimony this week, Mark Harris' political consultant Andy Yates said he paid Dowless instead of having the Harris campaign pay him directly. John Harris said he thinks that was done to separate Dowless from his father.

"They had received assurances from Mr. Dowless that they believed. And that they certainly did want it to be true. And I was saying my objections...Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No. I thought what he was doing was illegal. And I was right," said John Harris.

After the ballot scandal broke in late November 2018, Mark Harris sat for an interview with WFAE at his house in south Charlotte in January.

He was asked specifically about those 2016 primary results and whether anyone warned him to stay away from Dowless.

"No. The only thing that people would say is that it was unusual," replied Mark Harris.

After John Harris was done testifying Wenesday, he asked if he could address the board.

"I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle. They made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have..."

As his son spoke, Mark Harris sat in the chamber, with his hands to his face, appearing to be on the verge of tears.

Mark Harris is scheduled to testify today.

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