WASHINGTON – North Carolina’s elections board has ordered a new election in the nation’s last undecided congressional race after reviewing evidence that it was tainted by absentee ballot fraud.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted 5-0 on Thursday to hold a new election in the 9th Congressional District. The board did not immediately set a schedule.
Following last November’s election, Republican Mark Harris had held a slim lead over Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results from the district running from Charlotte through several counties to the east.
But the state refused to certify the win because of charges of absentee-ballot irregularities.
Harris said Thursday during the hearing that he thought a new election should be called – reversing months of urging state election officials to certify him as the winner.
“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It’s 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.”
Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have been battling to represent the 9th Congressional District, three months after voters went to the polls Nov. 6.
In a case marked by twists and turns, Harris testified Thursday saying political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. told him his team wouldn’t handle absentee ballots, which is in violation of state law.
“I’ll never forget. He said it again and again. He said: We do not take the ballot,” Harris testified.
Harris’ son, John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, testified Wednesday that he warned his father about some questionable practices of Dowless.
Harris, who cried as his son testified, has said he didn’t know of any ballot problems.
The race is the last of the 2018 midterms to be decided. The district, which includes Charlotte, doesn’t have a representative yet in the new Congress.
What’s been going on?
The state board of elections has been holding hearings since Monday on the controversial case. Some witnesses working for Dowless testified that, among other things, they forged signatures.
Dowless refused to testify.
What are state election officials investigating?
The State Board of Elections delayed certifying election results last fall because it said it would launch an investigation into charges of voting irregularities.
Dowless, a political operative in the area, is accused of leading an effort that had workers encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot, then collecting those ballots and turning them in, which is illegal in North Carolina. The allegations led to charges of ballot tampering.
Why did the race get national attention?
The race landed in the national spotlight last November after Harris, who was leading by 905 votes, claimed the narrow win and McCready conceded. But it took a turn after charges of voter fraud surfaced.
The State Board of Elections didn’t certify the election.
The North Carolina race was one of several that raised concerns about voter fraud and voter suppression by Democrats and civil rights groups. Georgia election officials had come under scrutiny after Democrats charged that they tried to suppress the rights of black voters. Civil rights groups fought back a plan last fall to close polling sites in a predominately black county in Georgia.
Why do we care?
The outcome won’t change which party controls the House. Democrats have a majority in that chamber and will continue to do so this Congress.
But Democrats have made voting rights and elections a priority and are holding hearings focused on election concerns. A House elections subcommittee led by Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, is holding field hearings on elections, including one in North Carolina.
Fudge – citing North Carolina’s disputed race – said she expects Republicans to support some election reforms..
“They see that it is not reflecting well on any of us that we would have an election in question,” Fudge said in an interview with USA TODAY last month. “It doesn’t reflect well on this county that people have no confidence in our electoral system. Everybody knows something needs to be done on both sides.”
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press