Nearly four months after November’s midterm elections, one race is still undecided: North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. In December, btw brought you the story of this complicated race and the suspected scandal which caused the North Carolina State Board of Elections to twice refuse to certify the election results. After months of investigation, the state Board of Elections has finally reached a conclusion: the state will hold a whole new election. Here, Election Central explores the troubling events that led to this decision, and what it might mean for the 9th District, which is still without representation.
The race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. On Election Night, Harris emerged as the winner by an extremely narrow margin of about 900 votes. Soon after, however, voters in the district began to come forward with stories of campaign workers knocking on their doors, encouraging them to apply for absentee ballots. These same campaign workers would return later to help voters fill out the ballots and then collect them. But in North Carolinait is illegal for anyone other than the voter or a close relative of the voter to return an absentee ballot. Worse, a high percentage of these ballots never made it back to the State Board of Elections.
After some investigation, it was concluded that this illegal activity was spearheaded by a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who paid canvassers to collect the ballots and deliver them to him, rather than to the Board of Elections. Harris denied knowing anything about this, despite the fact that the political consulting firm he had hired was the one paying Dowless for his work.
The State Board of Elections, which is bipartisan, suspended the election results indefinitely while it undertook an investigation that included a subpoena of Harris’s campaign for key documents. Then the Board reconvened in February for a hearing, which revealed that Harris had indeed been made aware of what Dowless was up to. Harris’s own son testified that he had warned his father that Dowless’s tactics were likely illegal. Nevertheless, Harris continued to insist that he was unaware of what was going on, saying that he had trusted Dowless when Dowless promised that he was not collecting the absentee ballots.
After four days of testimony, the Board voted unanimously to hold a new election. Harris himself eventually agreed, saying that after listening to the testimony, he believed that the fairness of the original election had been compromised and that a new election was indeed necessary.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections will hold a public hearing to determine when the new election will be held. Meanwhile, the investigation will continue. Harris has announced that he will not run in the new election, blaming his poor health. Instead, he is endorsing Stony Rushing, the Union County commissioner. Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, has already raised more than half a million dollars for his new campaign.