Politics & Government

Mark Harris doesn’t expect a new election in the disputed 9th District race

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Republican Mark Harris said he believes the likelihood of a new election in the 9th Congressional District has dropped with recent changes to the state elections board.

Harris has seen his apparent victory in November’s election clouded by allegations of election fraud, particularly in Bladen County.

Amid a probe into the allegations, a panel of three state judges last month dissolved the nine-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. A new five-member State Board of Elections — with three Democrats and two Republicans — is expected to be named Jan. 31. By law, it would then take four of the five members to order a new election.

“So I think the prospect of a new election dropped significantly with the dissolution of the board,” Harris told the Observer.

Republican Mark Harris and his attorney David Freedman speak with the media after meeting with state election investigators at the Dobbs Building in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

However, it would take three members to certify Harris’ apparent victory over Democrat Dan McCready. Harris led by 905 votes in unofficial returns. The old elections board twice declined to certify his election, and the new Democratic-controlled House declined to seat him when it convened on Thursday.

But a new state elections board isn’t the only authority that could order a new election.

So could the courts. So could Congress, according to state election officials. And a provision of state law even gives the governor authority to call a new congressional election in some cases.

Though no election board currently exists, its staff has continued to investigate the allegations of absentee ballot fraud in the district, particularly in Bladen County. The staff interviewed Harris on Thursday. He said he plans to turn over more documents this coming week.

At the center of the controversy is McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County elected official and political operative.

In 2016, Dowless worked for Republican Todd Johnson’s 9th District campaign in Bladen County. In that county, Johnson got 221 absentee votes to 4 for Harris and 1 for GOP incumbent Robert Pittenger. In the district as a whole, Johnson finished third.

Asked if those figures had raised any red flags, Harris told the Observer he was told by a lawyer that there was no indication of wrongdoing. Harris said when her decided to hire Dowless for his 2018 run, his campaign did a criminal background search that he said found only “a few” misdemeanors.

But it failed to turn up information that showed Dowless was a convicted felon who faced jail time for fraud and perjury, according to court records.

Dowless was convicted of felony fraud in 1992 in Iredell County, according to court records. He and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death, according to a 1991 Fayetteville Observer article.

The Observer previously reported that he served more than six months of a two-year prison sentence.

Harris also has taken the case to state court. On Thursday his lawyer petitioned a Wake County Superior Court to order the executive director of the elections board to certify his election immediately.

The court has asked parties to submit briefs by Jan. 14.

Follow more of our reporting on The North Carolina election fraud investigation

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