The North Carolina State Elections Board voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to hold a new election in North Carolina’s 9th District.
Their vote came after Republican Mark Harris‘s stunning call for a new election following his admission that he misspoke during his testimony earlier in the day.
“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,” Harris said.
Harris took the stand immediately after the evidentiary hearing resumed following an abruptly called lunch break and closed session. He read from a prepared statement explaining that confusion in his earlier testimony stemmed from illness he recently suffered.
Counsel for Harris agreed that a new election should be called, but attorney David Freedman argued that Harris did not know about any wrongdoing.
After last fall’s voting, Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. But the State Board of Elections had refused to certify the results because of allegations of tampering with absentee ballots. The state board announced on day one of the hearings on Monday that it found evidence of a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operation,” including efforts of a cover-up.
Taking the stand Thursday afternoon, Harris said he’d recently suffered two strokes and that he was “struggling” with his testimony. He had first testified in the morning that he couldn’t remember telling anyone whether he expected emails between him and his son John to be presented during the hearing. Those emails were a central part of Wednesday’s hearings, during which John Harris testified to having warned his father about Leslie McCrae Dowelss, Jr., the operative at the center of the ballot scheme.
But after the intermission on Thursday, Mark Harris clarified that he had in fact told his other son this week that he wasn’t expecting those emails to come up during the hearing.
Attorneys for Harris’ campaign committee were under fire from the board Thursday morning for not having turned over those emails until just before John Harris took the stand on Wednesday. On Wednesday night, they turned over a previously undisclosed message in which Harris asked a local Republican for an introduction to Dowless and referred to him as “the guy whose absentee ballot project for Johnson could have put me in the US House this term.”
Dowless had worked in the 9th District’s 2016 GOP primary for Todd Johnson, who was the top vote-getter in absentee ballots in Bladen County.
Having examined absentee ballot data from 2016, John told his father in April 2017 that Dowless had likely been collecting absentee ballots and that that was illegal, even offering to send him the statute to prove it to him.
The warnings John testified to having given his father would seem to contradict earlier interviews in which Mark Harris said no one had raised any red flags to him about Dowless.
But on Thursday, Mark Harris said he didn’t even consider his communication with his son to be a warning.
“I just believed he was overreacting,” Mark Harris said Thursday.
Mark Harris didn’t question Dowless about his absentee ballot operation, and said he was impressed with Dowless’ relationships in Bladen County and his status as a local elected official.
He admitted Thursday that his son’s warnings in April 2017 were “prophetic,” but said he dismissed them at the time since his son had never been to Bladen County and had never met Dowless.
“I’m his dad,” Mark Harris said, adding, that he’s known his son to have “a little taste of arrogance.”
The state board has the power to set the date for the special election. There will also be a special election in the open 3rd District, which the governor will call, to fill the seat vacated by the late Walter Jones.