North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to call a new election in the state’s 9th Congressional District after days of hearing evidence of alleged ballot fraud.

The decision came after Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisSacramento police reviewing 12-year-old's arrest after video goes viral Trump tweets 'Total Endorsement' of NC GOP House candidate North Carolina state senator wins GOP primary in 9th District MORE, one of the candidates in the race, expressed support for a new election, saying that allegations of a ballot-tampering scheme marred the current results.

Harris's request for a new election was a stunning reversal for the Republican House candidate.

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Initial results showed Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. But state election officials refused to the certify the Republican hopeful as the winner after they received accounts of a ballot-harvesting operation.

“I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said Thursday. “It’s become clear to me that public confidence in the 9th District has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”

The vote capped off four days of witness testimonies detailing an alleged scheme by Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by Harris’s campaign, to pay workers to collect absentee ballots from voters in rural Bladen County.

Under North Carolina state law, only a voter or a close relative can turn in or mail an absentee ballot.

The allegations have left the fate of the race for North Carolina’s 9th District in limbo for months.

Since then, Democrats have called for a new election in the district, arguing that the alleged scheme had undermined confidence in the results. Republicans, meanwhile, asserted that not enough ballots were affected by Dowless’s alleged operation to change the race's outcome.

But the Republican Party reversed its position on the matter Thursday, after Harris said the evidence presented during the hearing showed that a new election was warranted.

"Through the testimony I've listened to over the last three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said at the hearing on Thursday. “It has become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."

The board’s vote to order a new election drew unanimous support from its two Republican and three Democratic members. In order for the panel to call a new election, at least four of its five members were required to vote for it.

The board’s decision to declare a new election sets up a new round of primary elections in North Carolina’s 9th District, meaning that Harris and McCready will have to vie for their parties’ nominations once again.

It was not immediately clear whether Harris will run in the new election. Former Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race Obama political arm to merge with Holder-run group MORE (R-N.C.), whom Harris vanquished in a primary last year, said last month that he would not run again if a new election were to be called.

Exactly when a new election will be held remains unclear. Josh Lawson, the general counsel for the elections board, said members will have to meet again to vote on new election dates.

Harris has said repeatedly that he was not aware that Dowless’s absentee ballot operation may have been illegal. He reiterated that point on Thursday in his call for a new election.

"Neither I nor any of the leadership in my campaign were aware of or condone the improper activities that have been testified to in this hearing," he said.

But throughout the hearing, witnesses have described lax oversight by Harris’s campaign over Dowless’s activities.

Andy Yates, a co-founder of consulting firm Red Dome and the top consultant for Harris’s campaign, told the board this week that he reimbursed Dowless for his campaign-related work without requiring invoices or receipts.

Harris’s son, John Harris, also testified in the hearing on Wednesday that he told his father in 2017 he suspected that Dowless’s absentee ballot work may have been unlawful. Despite those warnings, the elder Harris directed Dowless’s hiring.

“I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right,” John Harris told the elections board on Wednesday.

In a tweet on Thursday, McCready called the election board’s decision “a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”

“From the moment the first vote was stolen in North Carolina, from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud, the people have deserved justice,” he wrote. “Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”

Less than an hour after the board voted, McCready began fundraising for a new election, suggesting that he is planning to run for the seat once again. His campaign sent an email to supporters on Thursday afternoon directing them to ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s online fundraising platform.

—Updated at 4:47 p.m.