Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisTrump sparks debate over merits of voting by mail The Hill’s Campaign Report: Debate over mail-in voting heats up Bevin says he lost because liberals are ‘good at harvesting votes’ in urban areas MORE on Thursday called for a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, saying that allegations of ballot tampering have shaken the public’s confidence in the race’s outcome.
Harris’s request, which came at a hearing of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, was a stunning reversal for the Republican House candidate, who has for months urged state elections officials to certify him as the winner in the race.
“I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It’s become clear to me that public confidence in the 9th District has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”
The initial election results showed Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.
But the outcome of the election has been left unresolved for months after allegations surfaced that Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by Harris’s campaign, paid workers to collect absentee ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina.
The alleged ballot-tampering scheme is the subject of an ongoing hearing by the state elections board.
Over four days, witnesses and election officials have described a sweeping operation led by Dowless to collect absentee ballot request forms and ballots themselves.
Witnesses have also described lax oversight by Harris’s campaign over Dowless’s activities.
Andy Yates, a co-founder of consulting firm Red Dome and the top consultant for Harris’s campaign, told the board this week that he reimbursed Dowless for his campaign-related work without requiring invoices or receipts.
Harris’s son, John Harris, also testified in the hearing on Wednesday that he told his father in 2017 he suspected that Dowless’s absentee ballot work may have been unlawful. Despite those warnings, the elder Harris directed Dowless’s hiring.
“I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right,” John Harris told the elections board on Wednesday.
The younger Harris said, however, that he believed Dowless lied to his father about the legality of his absentee ballot program.
Mark Harris has insisted repeatedly that he was not aware of any unlawful activities. In testimony Thursday, he said he did not take his son’s comments as warnings.
He also said he was skeptical of his son’s suspicions about Dowless, because he was not familiar with the nuances of politics in rural Bladen County, where the alleged ballot-tampering took place.
Harris’s call for a new election does not guarantee that one will take place. The state board of elections still has to vote on whether to order one, a move that would require the approval of four out of five of the panel’s members.
The panel is composed of three Democrats and two Republicans.
If a new election is ordered, it would mean holding a new primary as well, meaning Harris and McCready would once again have to compete for their respective parties’ nominations should they decide to run.
After his remarks on Thursday, Harris stepped down from the witness stand, saying that a recent hospitalization made it difficult for him to continue testifying.
Harris’s comments came after state elections officials said that his campaign had failed to turn over documents relevant the investigation.
Harris’s campaign turned those documents in Wednesday. But the elections board said that they should have been handed over earlier.
For months, Democrats have demanded that a new election be called in North Carolina’s 9th District, arguing that the ballot-tampering allegations had undermined public confidence in the election results.
But Republicans pushed back on that demand, asserting that not enough absentee ballots were swept up in the alleged scheme to sway the outcome of the race.
Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina GOP, threw his support behind Harris’s call for a new election on Thursday.
“Today I ask for everyone’s prayers for @MarkHarrisNC9 Today is a tremendously difficult day for his family, supporters and the entire @NCGOP We support our candidates decision in this matter,” Woodhouse wrote. “We will do everything we can to help the process and system improve in the future.”
Today I ask for everyone’s prayers for @MarkHarrisNC9 Today is a tremendously difficult day for his family, supporters and the entire @NCGOP We support our candidates decision in this matter. We will do everything we can to help the process and system improve in the future
— Dallas Woodhouse (@DallasWoodhouse) February 21, 2019
Updated at 3:38 p.m.