Har­ris open to new elec­tion if fraud pos­si­bly changed first out­come

The News & Observer - - Front Page - BY ELY PORTILLO ely­por­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Mark Har­ris, the con­gres­sional can­di­date at the cen­ter of the un­fold­ing elec­tion fraud scan­dal in North Carolina’s 9th District, said Fri­day that he would “whole­heart­edly sup­port” a new vote if fraud could have changed the out­come of his con­test last month.

“If this in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds proof of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity on ei­ther side to such a level that it could have changed the out­come of the elec­tion then I would whole­heart­edly sup­port a new elec­tion,” said Har­ris, in a video state­ment re­leased by his cam­paign. He also said he was un­aware of any wrong­do­ing and is co­op­er­at­ing with the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which he hopes will lead to his vic­tory be­ing cer­ti­fied be­fore Congress starts its new ses­sion in Jan­uary.

Har­ris has not taken ques­tions from the me­dia since the story first erupted last week, when the N.C. Board of Elec­tions re­fused to cer­tify the re­sults of his race against Demo­crat Dan McCready. Har­ris could be seen at his south­east Char­lotte home Fri­day, but a cam­paign rep­re­sen­ta­tive said he would not be avail­able for an in­ter­view.

He said he sup­ports an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that could have ben­e­fited “ei­ther party in this elec­tion or past elec­tion cy­cles.”

McCready, who ini­tially con­ceded the Nov. 6 race af­ter un­of­fi­cial re­sults showed him los­ing by 905 votes, with­drew his con­ces­sion Thurs­day. He’s call­ing for Har­ris to ex­plain what he knew about an al­leged scheme to il­le­gally col­lect ab­sen­tee bal­lots in Bladen County and when.

“I didn’t serve over­seas in the Marines just to come home to

N.C. and watch a crim­i­nal, bankrolled by my op­po­nent, take away peo­ple’s very right to vote,” McCready said Thurs­day.

The al­leged elec­tion tam­per­ing, which would amount to a fed­eral felony for ev­ery tam­pered vote, is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the of­fice of Robert Hig­don, the Raleigh-based U.S. at­tor­ney for the East­ern District of North Carolina; the Wake County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice; the State Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion; and, ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post, the FBI.

The Har­ris cam­paign hired Cor­nelius-based po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Red Dome Group and paid them al­most $430,000. Andy Yates, the founder and head of Red Dome, has said the firm hired Bladen po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive McCrae Dow­less as an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor. Dow­less is al­leged to have run an ab­sen­tee-bal­lot-col­lect­ing op­er­a­tion that ben­e­fited Har­ris.

“My cam­paign and I are co­op­er­at­ing fully with the State Board of Elec­tions in­ves­ti­ga­tion and we will con­tinue to do so I trust the process that’s un­der­way, just as I’ve al­ways trusted the de­ci­sions of the vot­ers,” said Har­ris.

““Although I was ab­so­lutely un­aware of any wrong­do­ing that will not pre­vent me from co­op­er­at­ing,”

A cam­paign fi­nance fil­ing late Thurs­day shows the Har­ris cam­paign owes Red Dome $34,310 for “Re­im­burse­ment Pay­ment for Bladen Ab­sen­tee.”

The Board of Elec­tions is plan­ning to hold an ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing by Dec. 21. They could call for a new elec­tion. Top Democrats in the U.S. House have also said they likely won’t seat Har­ris in Congress if he ar­rives next month, height­en­ing the pres­sure for a new race. Dal­las Wood­house, the N.C. GOP’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said Thurs­day that the party is open to a new elec­tion if it can be shown that fraud could have changed the out­come.

“We will not op­pose if the non-par­ti­san Board of Elec­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mine the out­come of the race was changed or there is a sub­stan­tial like­li­hood it could have been,” said Wood­house.

But Robin Hayes, the state party chair, said he thinks Har­ris should be cer­ti­fied as the win­ner.

“Based on what we know at this point,” Hayes told The Char­lotte Ob­server on Thurs­day, “we think Mark Har­ris fairly and cor­rectly won this elec­tion and we think he should be cer­ti­fied.”

Har­ris won mail-in ab­sen­tee bal­lots by a mar­gin of 420 to McCready’s 258 in Bladen County. In the pri­mary, when he de­feated in­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can Robert Pit­tenger by 828 votes, Har­ris’s mar­gin in Bladen County was even big­ger — 437 mail-in ab­sen­tee votes to 17 for Pit­tenger.

McCready is rais­ing funds again. An ap­peal email sent to sup­port­ers late Thurs­day asked for do­na­tions “to keep me in this fight un­til ev­ery vote in North Carolina is ac­counted for.”

“It ap­pears that Mark Har­ris and his cam­paign hired a known crim­i­nal and bankrolled the op­er­a­tion,” the McCready cam­paign wrote.

Two sup­port­ers of McCready said that the Demo­crat held a con­fer­ence call Fri­day, joined by an at­tor­ney.

The McCready team stressed a com­mit­ment to get­ting to the bot­tom of the po­ten­tial elec­tion fraud story, and in­di­cated to par­tic­i­pants that they can go back to con­tribut­ing the max­i­mum in­di­vid­ual amount, $2,700, the par­tic­i­pants said.

“Sev­eral of us have been ask­ing that ques­tion, OK, can we give, what’s the limit, and so it was con­firmed for us to­day that we can do that,” said Beth Mon­aghan, who has been ac­tive in the group Repub­li­cans for Dan.

She added, “We are all blown away by the ex­treme ir­reg­u­lar­ity, the fraud, I’m just so — ugh, I’m so mad, so dis­ap­pointed in my party, the Repub­li­cans.”

Rep. Seth Moul­ton, a Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat who en­cour­aged McCready to run and was ac­tively in­volved in sup­port­ing McCready’s cam­paign, is again work­ing to help him. The two Democrats, both vet­er­ans, were class­mates at Har­vard Busi­ness School.

“Seth and Dan have been in close con­tact, [Moul­ton is] help­ing pro­vide Dan ad­vice,” said Matt Cor­ri­doni, a spokesman for Moul­ton.

DAVID T. FOSTER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Con­gress­man Mark Har­ris says he’d be open to a new elec­tion if it’s found that fraud al­tered the out­come.

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