GOP candidate Mark Harris's son testifies in NC ballot-tampering hearing

John Harris, the son of Republican congressional candidate Mark HarrisMark HarrisElection scandal looms over House race in NC North Carolina House race redo draws nearly a dozen GOP candidates House clerk to take over constituent services for contested North Carolina district MORE, said Wednesday that he does not believe his father knew about an alleged ballot-tampering scheme by a political operative working for the campaign.

Testifying at a hearing of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, John Harris said that believed that the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, “lied” to his father and the campaign officials about the legality of the alleged ballot-tampering scheme.

But he acknowledged that he had reservations about Dowless’s absentee ballot program. He said he told his father that he believed the operation may be illegal.

"I just didn’t believe McCrae because the numbers didn’t add up," John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina, said.

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The alleged scheme has left the outcome of the election for North Carolina’s 9th District unresolved for months.

Mark Harris currently leads Democrat Dan McCready in the race by 905 votes. But state election officials have refused to certify Harris as the winner amid allegations that Dowless paid workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters.

Democrats want the state elections board to order a new election in North Carolina’s 9th District, insisting that absentee voting in the race was tainted by fraud and that the final results cannot be trusted.

Republicans, on the other hand, argue that not enough absentee ballots were affected by the alleged scheme to change the outcome of the race. They’re asking elections officials to certify Harris as the winner.

John Harris’s testimony on Wednesday was the latest in an explosive evidentiary hearing that has so far lasted for three days.

Throughout the hearing, witness testimonies and state elections officials have detailed allegations of a sweeping ballot-harvesting operation led by Dowless, a longtime political operative in rural Bladen County.

Testifying on Tuesday and Wednesday, Andy Yates, the co-founder of the consulting firm Red Dome, acknowledged that the campaign did little to keep tabs on Dowless.

When it came to reimbursing Dowless for expenses related to his campaign work, Yates said he never asked to see receipts, invoices or any proof of the number of absentee ballot request forms being collected.

But Yates insisted that he was not aware of any illegal activities by Dowless, who Yates said joined Mark Harris’s campaign before he was ever hired.

The hearing is also expected to examine what Mark Harris knew about the alleged ballot-tampering scheme, if anything.

The candidate has insisted that he had no knowledge of any illegal activities by Dowless and that he was never warned about the operative, who has faced questions in the past about his absentee ballot operation.

Mark Harris personally directed Dowless’s hiring to the campaign.

John Harris said Wednesday that he believes that was because Dowless appeared to have a record of success in past elections.

“If he had lost repeatedly, I don’t think that they would have decided to go with him,” he said.

But he also said that he told his father after a meeting with Dowless in 2017 that collecting absentee ballots was a felony in North Carolina.

In an April 2017 email to Mark Harris, John Harris noted that a “good test” of Dowless’s operation was whether his father was “comfortable with the full process he uses being broadcast on the news.”

“I thought what he was doing was illegal,” John Harris said on Wednesday. “And I was right.”