It has been another crazy few days in the 9th Congressional District, where the North Carolina Board of Elections is still investigating allegations of fraud in the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
WFAE’s political reporter Steve Harrison joined Morning Edition host Lisa Worf to discuss the latest on the story.
Worf: Steve, are we moving closer to a new election?
Harrison: There certainly is momentum for it. Two weeks ago, the executive director of the Republican Party in North Carolina, Dallas Woodhouse, said the state should investigate – but it needed to certify Mark Harris as the winner because there weren’t enough mail votes in Bladen County to change the outcome. Then last week after more allegations surfaced, Woodhouse shifted. He said there should be a new election if there was a substantial chance the outcome would have been different. He didn’t think that McCrae Dowless and his employees harvesting mail ballots was enough to call for a new election. Then on Monday, he took a new position. The State Board of Elections released information showing the early vote total from Bladen County had been tallied the weekend before the election. That’s not supposed to be counted until election day, and no one is supposed to see it until the polls close. Woodhouse said if that’s true, there should be a new election. I think it’s clear that the GOP is getting hammered on this issue, and wants it to go away or be resolved.
Worf: What has to happen for there to be a new election, and what would it look like?
Harrison: The first thing is the state board of elections has to have their public evidentiary hearing on the case, and that looks like it will be Dec. 21. After that or during that meeting, the state board can vote to hold a new election in the 9th, but that’s all it can do. As of now, it can’t ask for a re-do of the primary. But the legislature has stepped in. It’s passed an elections bill that would require a new primary for the 9th District, as well as a general election.
Here’s what Charlotte Republican State Senator Dan Bishop said about that Wednesday night: "In the event the state Board of Elections should decide to call a new election, there will be an entirely new election cycle. There will be a primary and a general."
So if this plan moves forward, the primaries would be open to anyone. It wouldn’t just be a re-run of the first race. Remember, Harris only beat Robert Pittenger in May by 828 votes. And of the 456 absentee by mail votes cast in Bladen County, he won 96 percent of them.
Worf: So how strong is that evidence of fraud?
Harrison: We are getting an idea of how extensive Dowless’s ground game was in Bladen County through a pair of affidavits from the state Democratic Party. One came from a man, Kenneth Simmons, who said he was doing volunteer work for a candidate in Dublin – that’s a little town in Bladen County, and it’s where Dowless had his makeshift campaign office. Simmons wrote in his affidavit that he asked Dowless why he had so many absentee mail ballots. Dowless said he had 800 of them, and told Simmons that you wait until the last minute to turn the ballots in because you don’t want the opponent to know how many votes they need to make up. Another man from Cumberland County submitted an affidavit saying Dowless told him he had 80 people working for him in the 9th District. I talked with a woman in Bladenboro Monday, Kim Spurling, who said Dowless often came to her door to give her a ballot and then pick it up. For this election, she says she and her son signed their ballots but never filled them in. She rode to the county board of elections with a Dowless employee, Ginger Eason, who was bringing mail ballots there.
"We didn’t fill out anything…we just signed the front and signed our name and the date. I carried mine to the board of elections…Dustin’s my son, I think it went in the trash. It may have been carried or pick up," said Spurling.
But his ballot wasn’t thrown away. The state board shows that Dustin Spurling did vote or someone voted in his name.
Worf: Have we heard anything else from Harris?
Harrison: He posted his Twitter video Friday, but hasn’t heard from since. In that video, he said he didn’t know about any wrongdoing, and he said he would be open to a new election if it’s shown the outcome would have been different.