N.C. candidate directed hiring of aide despite warnings: report

North Carolina congressional candidate Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE (R), the Republican at the center of a North Carolina contest that could be heading to a new election, personally directed the hiring of a convicted felon who is at the center of an election-fraud probe.

The Washington Post reports that Harris personally sought out Leslie McCrae Dowless following Harris's loss in the 2016 GOP primary, in which Dowless helped Harris's opponent win an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote.

Claims have piled up around Dowless, who is being investigated over allegations he ran a scheme that paid people to illegally collect voters’ absentee ballots.

ADVERTISEMENT

Whether Harris knew about Dowless's alleged illegal activities is currently being investigated by the state board of elections, which has refused to certify the district's results more than one month after the election was held.

Harris's campaign did not immediately return a request for comment, but he has maintained that he knew nothing about any wrongdoing since the election has been called into question.

“I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing,” Harris said in a previous video statement.

But the Post reports that Harris personally sought out Dowless following his 2016 primary loss after advisers told him that something illegal had likely occurred involving mail-in ballots in the district, which went overwhelmingly to Harris's opponent, the last-place contender, who won nearly all mail-in votes in the district.

An incumbent congressman running in the same race won just one mail-in ballot.

That track record of Dowless's is allegedly what attracted Harris to the operative, according to sources close to Harris who told the Post that Harris realized he would have won the 2016 primary had he won the mail-in votes in that district by as significant a margin as his opponent, Todd Johnson.

North Carolina's Republican Party, along with some lawmakers in Congress, are open to a new election in the district. The governor is currently reviewing a law passed with bipartisan support in the state legislature that would also force a new primary election if the state board of elections orders a new election. The bill is currently on the governor’s desk.