Republican Mark Harris said he believes a new election should be called amid ongoing scrutiny over absentee ballot activity in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
“I believe new election should be called,” the candidate told the North Carolina State Board of Elections during public testimony Thursday. “It’s become clear to me the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”
The concession from Harris came after several days of testimony in which North Carolina officials laid out evidence that an operative working on his behalf had engaged in coordinated and substantial absentee ballot fraud. The Board of Elections can call for a new election if it believes there is enough evidence to “taint” the election or cast doubt in its legitimacy.
Harris, who testified all of Thursday morning, left the hearing immediately after calling for the new election. Noting he had been hospitalized for a recent illness, he said he was not in shape to testify.
Harris, who did not admit to wrongdoing Thursday, has maintained for months that he did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party of North Carolina has demanded he be seated unless the state could show there were enough irregularities to sway the outcome of the election.
But during a multiday hearing, investigators with the Board of Elections said they had gathered evidence showing a political operative, McCrae Dowless, had illegally collected absentee ballots on Harris’ behalf. A woman who worked for Dowless testified that she was paid to collect absentee ballots and instructed to take certain steps, which included opening unsealed ballots and filling in races left blank.
In remarkable testimony Wednesday, Harris’ son John explained he had warned his father that Dowless was likely engaged in illegal absentee ballot activity. John Harris, now a 29-year-old assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, said he had examined the absentee ballot returns in Bladen County, where Dowless worked, in 2016 and noticed they were arriving in batches. That was a signal someone was collecting them and mailing them in.
A key part of John Harris’ testimony was emails he had sent his father in 2017 warning that what Dowless was doing was illegal. Harris said he believed his father’s campaign attorneys had turned the emails over to the state board and was stunned to learn that was not the case. The board obtained the emails when John Harris sat with them for an interview and brought copies, believing he was providing documents the board already had.
Mark Harris testified Thursday that he did not recall telling anyone he thought those emails would be private. But on Thursday afternoon, he said he had been made aware he told his other son just that. He said his illness was giving him trouble remembering things.
Harris also downplayed his son John’s warning, saying he believed his son was blowing things out of proportion.
“I’m his Dad, and I know he is a little judgmental and has a little taste of arrogance,” Harris testified earlier Thursday.
During his time on the stand Thursday, Harris said that after hearing prior testimony, he believed Dowless had lied to him when he said he didn’t collect absentee ballots. He also agreed that the investigation into the irregularities was not political.
In addition to the absentee ballot issue, Kim Strach, the executive director of the state board, also suggested Harris may have broken campaign finance law. To retain Dowless, Harris wrote a personal check to an independent expenditure PAC. Those PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating with candidates or campaigns, but Harris testified Thursday he didn’t know that was the case.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.