Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina have passed legislation that would allow the party to ditch Mark Harris in a new primary election for the 9th District seat if the state board of elections there decides to toss out the results of the Nov. 7 midterms.
Now the bill sits on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
Harris and an operative for his campaign are at the center of an investigation into voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties that has thrown his 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready on Election Day into question.
The bipartisan state board of elections in North Carolina has voted to delay certifying the results of that race and will hold a public evidentiary hearing on Jan. 11.
In the meantime, Republicans in North Carolina appear to be having second thoughts about Harris as their candidate and have passed legislation in the GOP-controlled statehouse that would mandate a new primary election in addition to a new general election if the board votes to toss the results of the initial election and hold a new one.
“I think [legislators are] worried that Mark Harris might be damaged goods and they want to have the opportunity to have a different Republican nominee,” Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican operative and consultant in the state, told The Associated Press.
At least some North Carolina Democrats, though, don’t think holding new primary elections would be fair to McCready since he has built a campaign in opposition to Harris, not someone else.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to a candidate who has raised and spent millions of dollars in anticipation of Mark Harris being the opponent, to have to go through that again with a different opponent,” Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield told the AP. “Dan McCready shouldn’t have to face two different opponents.”
But Republicans have argued that if the primary election results are found to have been tainted, there should be a new primary election even though the original primary’s results were certified.
“Every candidate who enters that primary, if there is one, will have a chance to make their case,” North Carolina GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse said.
Rep. Robert Pittenger, who lost to Harris in the GOP primary back in May, has said he will leave the seat empty and keep a low public profile until the evidentiary hearing in January.
“I have received calls from a number of friends in the last couple days. My instincts are that I just think we ought to wait for this evidentiary hearing and let all the facts come out,” Pittenger told the AP. “Then after that, maybe I can give more consideration to that.”
A state prosecutor has been investigating the mail-in absentee ballot irregularities and potential tampering for roughly 10 months, her office confirmed earlier this month.
Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in Bladen County, where voters cast an unusually high number of mail-in absentee ballots, has raised eyebrows.
Harris won 96 percent of all mail-in absentee ballots in the county in his primary race against Pittenger back in May, far outpacing his overall margin of victory.
And in the general election, Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County even though just 19 percent of the voters who requested and received mail-in ballots were registered Republicans.
Harris confirmed in a local TV interview on Friday that he hired a man named McCrae Dowless to boost his mail-in absentee vote totals in Bladen and Robeson counties.
But he was not aware, he said, of the “harvesting” scheme Dowless allegedly ran, paying people to go door-to-door and collect ballots to hand back to Dowless instead of mailing them in.
It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
Harris suggested last week in the local TV spot that he doesn’t feel as much support from his own party as he had hoped.
“I certainly don’t feel the circling of the wagons around Harris the way I see the Democrats circling the wagons around McCready,” Harris said.
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