OPINION: New election needed to combat District 9 election fraud

After a meeting with the Mecklenburg County Grand Old Party Jan. 7, Mark Harris ran past reporters down the back stairwell of the building to a waiting car, pulling the fire alarm as he dodged reporter’s questions. The reason, he said, was to catch the beginning of the College Football National Championship, which provided a convenient excuse to avoid more questions about his fraudulent congressional campaign. Harris later said he regretted it, saying he should have just answered reporter’s questions with “no comment.”

The 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, which includes a swath of land from the eastern suburbs of Charlotte to south of Fayetteville, was the most hotly contested race in North Carolina during the 2018 midterms. The final, uncertified count shows Republican Harris ahead of his Democratic challenger, Dan McCready, by only 905 votes.

But the North Carolina Board of Elections has refused to certify the election results after evidence of absentee ballot fraud came to light and threw the efficacy of the election in doubt.

The Harris campaign hired Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., 62, a political operative who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans in the past to help get voters. Dowless has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s. He served six months in prison in 1992 after being convicted of felony fraud. He also was convicted of felony perjury in 1990.

Nonetheless, the Harris campaign hired him. The “Get out the vote” effort turned out to be absentee ballot fraud, which the campaign could have only seen coming if it had looked two years back to the 2016 primary elections when Dowless was working against them.

At that time, Dowless worked for Republican candidate Todd Johnson against Harris and Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary, which Pittenger won. Johnson, who finished last, dominated Bladen County, carrying 98 percent of the absentee ballots in the county.

Two years later, Bladen County is again under scrutiny. Harris received votes from 61 percent of mail-in ballots during the general election, despite registered Republicans only accounting for 19 percent of those ballots. That means Harris would have not only received every single Republican mail-in vote, but every Independent and even some Democrats as well.

Perhaps more concerning is the discrepancy between returned mail-in ballots across the district. The News and Observer reported that 24 percent of mail-in ballots issued were not returned, including 40 percent in Bladen County and 64 percent in neighboring Robeson County, where most of the mail-in ballots were issued to African-Americans and American-Indians.

Discrepancies are consistent across the district. More than 40 percent of African-American mail-in ballots and more than 60 percent of American-Indian mail-in ballots went unreturned compared to only 17 percent of white voters, the News and Observer reported.

Despite all of this, North Carolina Republicans have either been remarkably quiet or have denied these discrepancies had an impact on the election. The party that claims to be passing laws to combat voter fraud apparently does not have the same energy for election fraud.

Some say there is no evidence that irregularities changed the outcome as well as criticized the transparency of the investigation. Republicans have even refused to appoint members to the new bipartisan Board of Elections overseeing the investigation. Many are calling for Harris to be seated before the investigation, which they refuse to be included in, is finished.

“At this point, we believe the law requires there be enough evidence that the race could be in doubt. They have shown nothing,” Dallas Woodhouse, the director of the North Carolina GOP told the News and Observer.

The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has already stated that it will not seat Harris until the investigation is completed.

A lengthy court battle over election results disregards the will of the people and puts their representation in the hands of partisan judges. Therefore, as more and more evidence comes out, it is clear a new election is needed. It is impossible to know the extent of this election fraud and its impact on the election. A House member cannot be seated when the results of his election appear to be fraudulent.

At best, the Harris campaign showed gross negligence hiring a convicted felon as a political operative that had worked against them in a previous election using the same shady tactics. At worst, the Harris campaign attempted to steal the election.

Should a new election take place and should Harris decide to run again, the scrutiny by the media, federal government and state government should result in a fair election that gives the people of the 9th District a legitimate representative. Should Harris win this new election without Dowless’ services and no efficacy questions, the House of Representatives would have no choice but to seat him.