The North Carolina Board of Elections ordered a new election in the state’s 9th congressional district on Thursday, bringing a months-long saga over allegations of illegal activity in the collection of mail-in ballots to a close.
The board unanimously voted to hold a new election just hours after Republican candidate Mark Harris—who was initially declared the winner of the unresolved 2018 midterm race—called for one himself.
During his Thursday afternoon testimony to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Harris elicited some gasps when he flatly declared: “I believe a new election should be called."
“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,” he explained.
Harris’ call for a new election came as the board held a hearing, which began on Monday, to investigate misconduct with the collection of mail-in ballots. Harris narrowly led Democratic candidate Dan McCready by 905 votes in the initial tally.
For months, the race for NC-9 had been unresolved, making it the final midterm contest without a declared winner. At issue was an absentee ballot scheme led by political operative L. McCrae Dowless Jr., who was accused of collecting ballots from voters in an illegal manner. Harris maintained he was unaware of the operative's activity, which was revealed throughout months of investigative reporting and testimony from key witnesses throughout the week.
One witness, Lisa Britt, told the board that she was paid by Dowless to collect absentee ballots, some of which she said she personally filled in if the options were left blank. When she filled in the ballots, she testified, Britt would complete the blank choices with votes for Republicans. Dowless refused to testify, but state investigators presented a broad scheme that was led by the operative to assist Harris as he was hired to lead get-out-the-vote efforts for the campaign in Bladen and Robeson counties.
Harris led McCready in the vote count but these fraud allegations had prevented the race from being certified by the board of elections. And in December, Harris said that he would support a new election if fraud was determined.
Throughout this week’s hearings the Republican said that he did not know about any such scheme taking place in the race.
But on the third day of the hearings into the fraud allegations, Harris’ son John Harris said that he expressed concern to his father about Dowless’ work on a prior election in 2016.
Emails presented at the hearing showed the younger Harris telling his father about the 2016 collection of absentee ballots in Bladen County where he spotted irregularities, and a reference to the state statute forbidding collection of ballots. John Harris also said though that he believed Dowless lied to his father about his tactics.
The presentation of those emails were also the subject of tension on Thursday as the general counsel for the State Board of Elections reportedly read from a letter criticizing the campaign’s lawyers for not turning over the email correspondence until the Wednesday testimony.
It's not clear if Harris will attempt to run in a new election after the board's decision.