There is still one unresolved congressional race from 2018. It is in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where allegations of ballot fraud have kept the state from certifying the election results. This week, the state’s elections board held hearings to try and get to the bottom of the situation.
On Wednesday, the hearing turned into a scene out of a Shakespeare play set in Fayetteville, as the son of the Republican candidate testified that he had warned his father that one of the people hired for a get-out-the-vote effort was known for using shady, and possibly illegal, practices in past campaigns. And he had emails to back him up.
John Harris, son of the candidate Mark Harris, testified on Wednesday that after his father narrowly lost the GOP primary in 2016, the younger Harris was reviewing election data. He noticed an anomaly: in Bladen County, the primary’s third-place finisher had won nearly all the votes. He looked up when Bladen County had started receiving absentee ballots and saw they were coming in in “batches,” which led him to believe that someone was collecting the ballots and mailing them all at the same time.
It turned out the person running that collection effort was a man named McCrae Dowless, who had been hired for a get-out-the-vote effort in Bladen. When the younger Harris notified his father about his suspicions, his dad did what any ambitious politician would do: he alerted the North Carolina Board of Elections about possibly fraud that altered the election’s outcome.
Ha ha, kidding. Actually, he hired Dowless to work on his 2018 general election campaign.
Dowless’s responsibility, again, was to get out the vote for Harris in the eastern part of the district. Several people he employed have testified that part of this effort included collecting absentee ballots to mail in for them, which is illegal, and also filling in some of the down-ballot races that those voters had left blank. Which is also obviously illegal.
Harris has denied knowing about any illegal efforts on his behalf. His son testified that he thought Dowless had lied to his father about his work, and his father had believed him.
It is not exactly Watergate, but it does bring to mind a slight alteration of the phrase made famous in congressional hearings during that scandal: What did the candidate know, and when did he know it?
At the very least, hiring Dowless after Harris’s own son had warned him the man was engaged in shady practices was a grotesque error in judgement that should make his constituents question his fitness for office.
Harris had won the election over the Democratic candidate, Dan McCready, but less than a thousand votes. It is up to the BOE to determine whether to certify those results in spite of Dowless’s efforts, or declare McCready the winner, or call for a new election altogether. Presumably if it chooses that last option, Harris will know better than to hire Dowless this time. But who knows.