Har­ris doesn’t ex­pect a new elec­tion in dis­puted 9th race

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY JIM MOR­RILL jmor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Repub­li­can Mark Har­ris said he be­lieves the like­li­hood of a new elec­tion in the 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict has dropped with re­cent changes to the state elec­tions board.

Har­ris has seen his ap­par­ent vic­tory in Novem­ber’s elec­tion clouded by al­le­ga­tions of elec­tion fraud, par­tic­u­larly in Bladen County.

Amid a probe into the al­le­ga­tions, a panel of three state judges last month dis­solved the nine­mem­ber State Board of Elec­tions and Ethics En­force­ment. A new five­mem­ber State Board of Elec­tions — with three Democrats and two Repub­li­cans — is ex­pected to be named Jan. 31. By law, it would then take four of the five mem­bers to or­der a new elec­tion.

“So I think the prospect of a new elec­tion dropped sig­nif­i­cantly with the dis­so­lu­tion of the board,” Har­ris told the Ob­server.

How­ever, it would take three mem­bers to cer­tify Har­ris’ ap­par­ent vic­tory over Demo­crat Dan McCready. Har­ris led by 905 votes in un­of­fi­cial re­turns. The old elec­tions board twice de­clined to cer­tify his elec­tion, and the new Demo­cratic-con­trolled House de­clined to seat him when it con­vened on Thurs­day.

But a new state elec­tions board isn’t the only au­thor­ity that could or­der a new elec­tion.

So could the courts. So could Congress, ac­cord­ing to state elec­tion of­fi­cials. And a pro­vi­sion of state law even gives the gov­er­nor au­thor­ity to call a new con­gres­sional elec­tion in some cases.

Though no elec­tion board cur­rently ex­ists, its staff has con­tin­ued to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions of ab­sen­tee bal­lot fraud in the dis­trict, par­tic­u­larly in Bladen County. The staff in­ter­viewed Har­ris on Thurs­day. He said he plans to turn over more doc­u­ments this com­ing week.

At the cen­ter of the con­tro­versy is McCrae Dow­less, a Bladen County elected of­fi­cial and po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive.

In 2016, Dow­less worked for Repub­li­can Todd John­son’s 9th Dis­trict cam­paign in Bladen County. In that county, John­son got 221 ab­sen­tee votes to 4 for Har­ris and 1 for GOP in­cum­bent Robert Pit­tenger. In the dis­trict as a whole, John­son fin­ished third.

Asked if those fig­ures had raised any red flags, Har­ris told the Ob­server he was told by a lawyer that there was no in­di­ca­tion of wrong­do­ing. Har­ris said when he de­cided to hire Dow­less for his 2018 run, his cam­paign did a crim­i­nal back­ground search that he said found only “a few” mis­de­meanors.

But it failed to turn up in­for­ma­tion that showed Dow­less was a con­victed felon who faced jail time for fraud and per­jury, ac­cord­ing to court records.

Dow­less was con­victed of felony fraud in 1992 in Ire­dell County, ac­cord­ing to court records. He and his wife were ac­cused of tak­ing out an in­surance pol­icy on a dead man and col­lect­ing nearly $165,000 from his death, ac­cord­ing to a 1991 Fayet­teville Ob­server ar­ti­cle.

The Ob­server pre­vi­ously re­ported that he served more than six months of a two-year pri­son sen­tence.

Har­ris also has taken the case to state court. On Thurs­day his lawyer pe­ti­tioned a Wake County Su­pe­rior Court to or­der the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the elec­tions board to cer­tify his elec­tion im­me­di­ately.

The court has asked par­ties to sub­mit briefs by Jan. 14.

Mark Har­ris

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