DemDaily: Fraud on the Frontline

February 22, 2019

After three months of allegations and investigations into ballot-tampering, the North Carolina Board of Elections voted unanimously yesterday to throw out the results of the November 6th election in the Ninth Congressional District, and order a new contest.

The decision marks the first time in US history that a new election for federal office has been called for election fraud, thrusting the issue back into the national limelight, and setting up the first special election of 2019.

It also presents an opportunity for Democrats to add one more to the record-40 flipped seats that gave them control of the US House of Representatives.

NC's 9th CD includes all/parts of Mecklenburg, Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland, Robeson, Bladen, and Cumberland counties. Image: MSNBC

The Set Up
Voter suppression, election irregularities and fraud are words that have been used freely in the last two years by both political parties, but the case in North Carolina reads straight out of a movie script.

A traditionally "red" district, the 9th CD has been Republican for 50 years, and held by incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger since 2013.

Pittinger, however, was unseated in the May 8, 2018 Republican primary by evangelical minister Mark Harris, who had narrowly lost to him in the 2016 primary.

In the 2018 general election Harris went head-to-head against Democratic nominee Dan McCready, a former Marine Corps Captain, Harvard Business School graduate and founder of a solar farm companyin Charlotte.

Harris led McCready 49.3% to 48.9% after election night, but certification of the 905-vote victory was suspended following affidavits of ballot fraud presented by the North Carolina Democratic Party.

"When you see this kind of cheating, this kind of fraud, when you see a culture of corruption built by someone else's campaign; this is bigger than one race, this is bigger than one election, this is about what does it means to live in a democracy ... to be an American." Dan McCready (D)

The Case
The drama revolves around the actions of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political consultant with a felony record who was hired by the Harris campaign to oversee absentee ballot operations in Bladen and Robeson counties -- two of the district's most rural, economically-distressed  counties.

The North Carolina Board of Elections initiated an evidentiary hearing into allegations Dowless had orchestrated a ballot fraud scheme in an attempt to sway the race to the Republican.  However, an unrelated side drama surrounding the Board itself resulted in its disbanding by Governor Roy Cooper (D), causing further delay in the investigation.

Thursday's decision by the new Board followed three days of testimony that included election workers who were paid by Dowless to illegally collect, fill out and forge mail-in ballots.

The plot twist, however, came with the surprise testimony of Harris' son John, a federal prosecutor, that his father repeatedly ignored his warnings about Dowless. The testimony contradicted Mark Harris' previous statements claiming ignorance of Dowless' background, thereby setting him up for perjury charges.

The senior Harris attributed the disparity to health issues that clouded his memory and, in a stunning conclusion to the case, retracted his statements and endorsed a new election.

"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." Mark Harris (R)

The Special Election
In deferring to his health issues, including two recent mini-strokes, Harris also set the stage for his exit from the race altogether, leaving the Republican nomination up for grabs.

McCready, who has already raised $500,000+ in anticipation of a new election, announced today he would be running in the special.

The dates for the primary and general elections will be announced soon, but it likely the outcome of the final race of the 2018 midterms will not be settled before October.

In the interim, the criminal investigation of the election fraud in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District may proceed.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Resources: The Washington Post, NBCNews, MSNBC

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