On Feb. 21, the North Carolina Board of Elections ordered a new election for the contested District 9 congressional seat.
Former Charlotte First Baptist Church pastor Mark Harris, the Republican candidate for the seat, called for the new election after hearing days of testimony suggesting improper voting activity had occurred in the district.
“I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It has become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”
Harris, referring to a recent hospitalization and illness, said he suffered two strokes and was struggling to remember specific facts key to the investigation.
His son, John, testified Feb. 20 about emails and conversations he had with his father questioning the role of a Bladen County political operative.
Mark Harris’ lawyer admitted Feb. 21 that certain documents had not been given to the board. Those documents reveal there were multiple warnings about Leslie McCrae Dowless and the possibility of him illegally manipulating ballots.
Harris said his son’s age, current location and lack of personal contact with the political operative in question played a part in him not listening to the warnings. He said his son had never been to Bladen County and had never met Dowless or other local community leaders vouching for Dowless.
Dowless assured Harris that he wasn’t collecting ballots, just using local contacts to help citizens participate in the election.
The board, which is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, was unanimous (5-0) in their decision (5-0). A date has not been set for the new election.
The seat is the last vacant congressional seat. Democratic candidate Dan McCready plans to run in the new election, but it is uncertain whether Harris will choose to remain in the race.
The seat has been in Republican hands since 1963. The margin of the election was 905 votes.
McCready held a large fundraising advantage over Harris amid a national Democratic wave last fall.
McCready called the board’s decision a “win for democracy.”
Harris, a graduate of Appalachian State University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, previously served as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, SEBTS trustee, SEBTS chairman of the board and on the board of directors for the Biblical Recorder. He helped mobilize N.C. churches to vote for a Marriage Amendment as a founding member of Vote for Marriage NC.