CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Republican voters in North Carolina returned to the polls on Tuesday for a do-over election to determine which candidate will face the Democratic contender for the state’s vacant 9th Congressional District seat.
Following a two-week early voting period, the special primary is the first step in a new election ordered in light of evidence of an illegal absentee-ballot harvesting scheme in rural Bladen County during last year’s midterm.
There are 10 candidates on the primary ballot, and both Republicans and unaffiliated residents cast their votes on Tuesday.
The general election will be held Sept. 10, unless no single candidate can garner over 30% of the votes on Tuesday. In that case, voters would choose between two leading Republican candidates during a runoff election on the September date, pushing the general election to Nov. 5.
The primary coincides with municipal primaries taking place in Charlotte, which makes up a small piece of the geographically meandering 9th District.
Former candidate Mark Harris, the apparent Republican winner of the midterm race, decided not to run in the new election, citing health concerns as the reason, after a series of hearings held by the state’s elections board in February found the outcome of that race was possibly tainted by one of Harris’ hired campaign operatives.
McCrae Dowless, the operative who was accused of mishandling absentee ballots in multiple rural counties in the district, was charged with obstruction of justice and illegal possession of absentee ballots in late February.
In his public statement declining a second run, Harris endorsed Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing for the seat, which has been vacant since Republican Robert Pittenger left office in January.
Rushing is one of the leading candidates in the primary.
Democrat Dan McCready, who never ceased campaign efforts as doubts about last year’s election outcome churned, is running unopposed in his party this time around.
State Senator Dan Bishop is among the other Republican candidates on the ballot, and has raised about $250,000 for his campaign, according to an Associated Press report. Bishop is known for his support of the state’s controversial 2016 transgender bathroom bill, which sought to keep North Carolinians from using bathrooms not designated for their sex assigned at birth.
Many 9th District candidates, such as Matthew Ridenhour, a former county commissioner and U.S. Marine, have tried to distance themselves from North Carolina’s Republican hardliners.
“It’s our time. It’s time for all the people who are sick of the same old, same old establishment smoke and mirrors game. And we as the American people feel like we’re getting played. That’s who I am,” Ridenhour said during a debate last week.
State GOP chairman and former Congressman Robin Hayes was indicted in April after being accused of trying to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey to remove a regulator who was focused on an investment company owned by a top GOP donor.
Ridenhour said at the debate, “Folks actually do bring this up. What’s going on with the GOP? What happened to your GOP chairman?”
Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College who spoke with Courthouse News about ballot irregularities last November, predicted a low turnout in Tuesday’s primary. He analyzed early data and found that the average voter age was 64 for this special election – about 20 years old older than the average registered Republican or unaffiliated voter in the 9th District, he said in his blog that has been tracking voting trends in the area.