CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Amid an ongoing investigation surrounding the still undecided 9th Congressional District race, the focus in North Carolina has shifted to whether the apparent Republican winner knew about fraudulent activity that may have been connected to his campaign.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Mark Harris ignored warnings that a political aide his campaign hired may have used questionable strategies in the past and sought his help in garnering votes anyway.
Harris has denied any knowledge of illegal activity and said he supports a fair investigation. The state board of elections obliged, subpoenaing many of his campaign documents.
The Republican candidate appeared to have defeated Democrat Dan McCready in the general election by a mere 905 votes in North Carolina’s 9th District, but the elections board twice refused to certify the results as rural Bladen County became riddled with ballot fraud allegations involving absentee mail-in ballots.
At the center of an ongoing fraud probe is McCrae Dowless, a campaign operative with a history of working for candidates who receive unusually high numbers of absentee votes.
Dowless is accused by several witnesses in sworn affidavits of paying people to collect unsealed absentee ballots door-to-door in Bladen County. This practice, referred to as ballot-harvesting, is illegal and could be considered tampering. He turned in hundreds of absentee ballot requests in Bladen County, according to the state board of elections.
“Many Republicans have cried out about voter fraud over the years and made it harder for citizens to vote in person at the polls, but now we are seeing where fraud could really be taking place —by absentee ballot,” said Delores Hurt, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Documents emerged in a filing with the Federal Election Commission this month showing that the Harris campaign listed a debt of $34,310 owed to the Red Dome Group, which had contracted Dowless as an operative for his campaign.
During the 2016 primary, Harris received four absentee votes in Bladen County, while the winning candidate Robert Pittenger received one. Todd Johnson, who took third place in the race, received 221 absentee votes after hiring Dowless.
Similar irregular numbers emerged during the 2018 midterm election, according to J. Michael Bitzer, a professor and elections expert at Catawba University.
Only 19 percent of voters who mailed ballots in Bladen County were registered Republicans, yet Harris won about 62 percent of the absentee vote in that county, he said.
“Almost every Republican voter would have had to select Harris, which is not unusual, but every independent voter and a high number of cross-over Democrats would have voted for Harris as well for this to add up,” he told Courthouse News last month.
Harris’ Democratic opponent withdrew his concession in the race as witnesses continued to come forward,posting a video online in which he accused the Republican of bankrolling Dowless’ alleged scheme.
“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marines to come home to NC and watch a criminal, bankrolled by my opponent, take away people’s very right to vote,” McCready said in a video announcement.
A leak of the early voting tallies was also alleged to have occurred in Bladen County, prompting Republicans and Democrats alike to demand not only a new general election, but a new primary as well.
On Wednesday, North Carolina lawmakers passed a requirement for a primary do-over if evidence of fraud stacks up enough to trigger a new election. The elections board will decide if another election is needed.
If a new election takes place, Independent candidate Jeff Scott said he hopes to do better.
“I am just a frustrated voter like everyone else,” he told Courthouse News on Friday.
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