The North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) unanimously ordered a new election in the controversial race in the state’s 9th Congressional District on Thursday.
The decision came after four days of dramatic testimony in the NCSBE’s investigation into allegations of absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County.
On election day, the boards of election in the eight counties that comprise the district determined that Republican Dr. Mark Harris won the race by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready. McCready conceded the election, but on November 28 the North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics, which had authority over state electoral matters until December 28 of last year, refused to certify the election results.
As a result, the state’s 9th Congressional District has not had representation in the U.S. House of Representatives since the 116th Congress convened on January 3.
Under a new law that went into effect this December, a primary election will be held first, followed by a general election. The NCSBE did not set a date for either election on Thursday, but is expected to do so shortly.
The Bladen County absentee irregularities centered around the conduct of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a get-out-the-vote operative with a long history of working for Democrats, who was hired by Harris’s campaign manager.
Events at Thursday’s NCSBE hearing moved rapidly.
“The decision came after Republican Mark Harris called for a new election himself after facing hours of questions on Thursday,” as WSOC TV reported:
Harris’ testimony came a day after John Harris testified that he raised concerns to his father about Dowless who is accused of illegally picking up absentee ballots.
The attorneys for the State Board of Elections and Democrat Dan McCready’s campaign repeatedly questioned Mark Harris about whether he thought his lawyers provided emails between him and his older son.
“We talked earlier about those emails, myself and Mr. Freedman had spoken back in December, and it was my understanding that the documents were all going to be produced,” Mark Harris said on the stand Thursday.
In Thursday’s testimony, Harris also said that his ability to participate in the hearing had been influenced by his recent health, as the News & Observer reported:
Harris, who spent the morning answering questions about his relationship with Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless, returned shortly after lunch.
“Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing and am getting stronger, clearly I am not and I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion,” Harris said, adding that he suffered two strokes while hospitalized for an infection. “Neither I nor any of the leadership in my campaign were aware of or condone the improper activities that have been testified to.”
Harris did not give an indication on Thursday whether he would run for the Republican nomination in the special election ordered by the NCSBE.