Mark Harris, the Republican candidate at the center of a major electoral fraud scandal in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, called for a new election on Thursday. A short time later, the state’s board of elections agreed:
The decision came after dramatic hearings this week concerning allegations that a Republican operative working on Harris’s behalf illegally collected and altered absentee ballots in two rural counties. Harris, who defeated Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes in November, had previously said that the state should call a special election if it could indeed prove that fraud occurred.
Just hours earlier, Harris had taken the stand in his own defense, where he distanced himself from the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, and disputed key testimony from a witness he knows very well: His own son, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Harris. On Wednesday, the younger Harris said that he’d warned his father that Dowless appeared to engage in illegal activity. His father then hired the operative over his objections, News Channel WSOC 9 reported.
Harris’s story was seriously damaged by his son’s testimony, and his chances of entering Congress slimmed even further on Thursday morning. His legal team turned over emails between the candidate and a local judge, Marion Warren, that underscored Dowless’s reputation as the magic sauce to Election Day success — and the enthusiasm with which Harris sought the operative’s help. Warren, Harris told WBTV 5 last year, had described Dowless as “a good ol’ boy that knew Bladen County politics, that he did things right and that he knew election law better than just about anyone he knew of.”
Dowless certainly seems to know enough about election law to circumvent it. The New York Times provided further details from this week’s hearings: A woman testified on Wednesday that she delivered absentee request forms and absentee ballots to Dowless in exchange for gas money, and other witnesses have said that the operative told his workers to fill in ballots in ink colors “specifically chosen so it would not arouse suspicion at local elections offices.” Dowless’s own stepdaughter testified that she personally altered “fewer than a dozen” ballots.
Harris, whose campaign paid Dowless through a consulting firm that has also denied any knowledge of illegal activity, hasn’t admitted direct complicity in the fraudulent scheme. He has also not withdrawn himself as a candidate in a special election. But with his name tarnished by the Dowless scandal, his narrow victory over McCready may soon become a loss.