[Big h/t to NCMountainGirl for keeping us alerted here]
In what was considered a highly competitive and “top-tier” race to watch in Nov 2018 election cycle for the US House NC-09 was between Mark Harris (R), who managed to unseat the Republican incumbent in the Republican primaries, and the Democrat challenger Dan McCready.
The race was called by the press, then FiveThirtyEight, Harris was expected to win with a lead of only 905 votes. On November 27th, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform voted to not certify the November 6 election results due to “irregularities involving absentee ballots.”
“DUBLIN, N.C. — In a low-slung, aging commercial strip across the street from an online-gaming parlor here, a local operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless ran his command center for Republican Mark Harris in the 9th Congressional District primary this spring,” the Washington Post reports.
From FiveThirtyEight and NBCNews contributor Dave Wasserman:
According to local news out of Charlotte, NC, WSOC-TV, reports, “Dowless is the vice chair of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District, an elected position. He is also an electioneer with a criminal past dating back to the 80s. He was convicted of passing a worthless check, perjury and felony fraud and served six months behind bars.”
The Charlotte Observer reported, “Dowless and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death,” serving 6 months of a two-year sentence.
Mark Harris hired the political consulting group Red Dome Group, which has been helping Republican candidates for more than five years in North Carolina. Red Dome’s owner Andy Yate hired McCrae Dowless.
According to WSOC, in exclusive interviews, two women have now said they were hired by Dowless to pick up absentee ballots from voters.
It is illegal for anyone other than the individual or a close relative to mail a voter’s absentee ballot.
On Monday, Ginger Eason spoke with WSCO’s reporter Joe Bruno, then on Tuesday, Bruno spoke with Eason’s friend Cheryl Kinlaw on camera telling a similar story, that she knew Dowless, she was paid $100 to pick up the ballots, and that this “has been going on for years.”
Like Eason, Kinlaw didn’t mail the ballots, she said she gave them to Dowless.
“I don’t know what happened to them. He had stacks of them on his desk,” Kinlaw said.
“Kinlaw said she knows of at least five other people who were doing this.”
State documents list those requests, and one name comes up repeatedly. Channel 9 counted 590 applications with Dowless’ name on them, on one document alone.
This is a race that is separated by just over 900 votes.WSOC-TV
The state board of elections voted Friday to continue the investigation into the voting irregularities involving absentee ballots. The board said they will be holding a public hearing on the matter by December 21.
The Raleigh based Civitas Institute ran a poll of more than 500 people in NC-09 in July revealed Dan McReady (D) was favored over Mark Harris 43%-36%, with Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott pulling in 3%.
Further complicating things, due to negative comments made on social media about Donald Trump, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Chairman Andy Penry resigned on Saturday, effective immediately, saying, in part: “The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy”, adding, “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”
The News&Observe reported, North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper (D), who defeated sitting governor Pat McCrory in 2016, named election board member Joshua Malcom as Chairman on Monday.
The state board of elections has issued subpoenas for both Harris’ campaign and to Red Dome.
A timeline: US House District 9 race investigation: How we got here. (WSOC-TV)
The Hill reported Tuesday, incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer said while he is “hopeful that North Carolina officials will settle the controversy surrounding Republican Mark Harris,” if the matter is not cleared “Democrats will not seat” Harris “if allegations of election fraud carry over to next year.”
On A Side Note to the Story
From Pastor to Politician
Mark Harris, a pastor in Charlotte, NC, lost his first primary bid for political office in 2014 for US Senate. In 2016, Harris then challenged the Republican incumbent US Rep Robert Pittenger and lost by 134 votes. In 2018, in a rematch against Pittenger in the Republican primary, Harris unseated Pittenger.
North Carolina’s District 09 is located in south-central North Carolina along its southern border. Its boundaries were redrawn after the US 4th Court of Appeals overturned it, saying, “Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage,” in January 2016, “condemning it as unconstitutional” and calling it a violation of the 14th amendment by a unanimous vote from the 3-panel judges, the New York Times reported in January 2018.
Donald Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016, and Republicans have held this seat in the US House of Representatives since 1963.
Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.NYT; Jan 9 2018
This is a crazy, convoluted mess, and by all appearances it is going to explode onto the national stage if/when this carries over into January. We’ll keep an eye on it and post updates as they apply.