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Here's what you need to know about North Carolina's GOP ballot fraud scandal

Mark Harris is finally conceding his own election must be redone, after evidence showed his campaign financed illegal votes.

by Rex Santus
Feb 22 2019, 6:04pm

Republicans like to obsess about “voter fraud” even when there's little or no evidence, but a GOP House candidate in North Carolina is now finally conceding his own election must be redone, after evidence showed his campaign financed illegal votes.

After several days of testimony, North Carolina’s Board of Elections unanimously ruled Thursday that the only undecided House contest from the fall midterms, Ninth District candidate Mark Harris, must be redone, and Harris tearfully agreed in a dramatic hearing. That’s because a political operative working for Harris harvested absentee ballots to vote in the Republican’s favor.

“It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” Harris said at the Thursday hearing, which shocked the audience into gasps.

Harris’s Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, lost the vote by just 905 votes, far less than the 1,200 absentee ballots that were requested by the operative McCrae Dowless on Harris’s behalf. That’s more than enough to have illegally tipped the election into the GOP candidate’s favor.

It’s a dramatic finish to the scandal that serves as perhaps the most startling example of modern-day election fraud. For now, it means North Carolina’s Ninth District is without representation — and it will be months until the vacancy is filled.

Here’s what you need to know about what happened in North Carolina, what happens next, and what this means for the GOP candidate who once ostensibly won the election.

What happened?

The scandal centers on McCrae Dowless, a veteran political operative with a felony record of fraud, hired by Harris for campaign work. Dowless allegedly requested absentee ballots for Bladen County residents, and he and his team would then harvest the ballots from those homes, mark all the candidates who Dowless wanted to win, then mail the ballots themselves, according to people who have worked with him. Dowless has refused to testify before the North Carolina Board of Elections, which consists of three Democrats and two Republicans.

Harris's stepdaughter also testified that workers sometimes signed as witnesses for ballots even though they were not witnesses, dated forms inaccurately, filled in parts of ballots, and even forged signatures. In Bladen County, Harris won by an unusually high margin of 19 points on absentee ballots.

Harris has denied knowledge of Dowless’ methods, but Harris’s own son, a U.S. assistant attorney in Raleigh, warned his father about Dowless’ reputation for political misdealings.

“The key thing that I am fairly certain they do that is illegal is that they collected the completed absentee ballots and mail them all at once,” John Harris wrote in an April 2017 email, a document he shared with investigators.

John Harris’ cooperation with investigators was another indictment against his father, who failed to provide the email record to them. Investigators have accused the senior Harris of withholding records that they subpoenaed.

“I love my dad, and I love my mom,” John Harris said, according to reporters at the hearing. “I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle. I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.”

Harris wept as his son spoke. The GOP candidate then said that a new election was necessary.

What happens next?

It could be several months before North Carolina’s Ninth District has an elected representative in the House. The election has not been scheduled, and even the candidates are undecided. The election do-over will require another set of primaries. It’s unclear if Harris will run again, though it seems unlikely. That’s all to say: It’s not entirely clear what happens now.

The scandal’s been particularly humiliating for the GOP party at large, considering their repeated claims of voter fraud. Republicans often accuse Democrats of fraud in elections, though there’s no evidence that voter fraud exists on a large scale. President Donald Trump has long accused his vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton, of using voter fraud to win the popular vote, a claim that is expressly false. And Trump established a voter fraud commission in May 2017, only to have it dissolve after about six months with nothing to show. Former members of the commission said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Trump has remained silent about the scandal in North Carolina.

Democrats, meanwhile, have celebrated the decision.

“Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina,” McCready said, following the board’s ruling. “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,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called out Trump’s silence on North Carolina’s likely incident of election fraud.

Cover: Mark Harris, Republican candidate in North Carolina's 9th Congressional race, fights back tears at the conclusion of his son John Harris's testimony during the third day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)