Republican Mark Harris will not go to Congress soon — and perhaps not at all. After admitting that testimony he gave the state board of elections was “incorrect,” the putative 9th CD winner in November’s midterms threw in the towel and called for a new election. After four days of testimony regarding election fraud in two counties, including from Harris’ son, the board unanimously agreed:
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 22, 2019
After a stunning reversal by Republican Mark Harris, North Carolina election officials Thursday unanimously ordered a new election in the 9th Congressional District, which has gained national attention as the last unresolved House race for the 2018 election.
The state elections board’s vote came after four days of testimony about what the board’s staff called “a coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” in Bladen and Robeson counties. And it came less than an hour after a startling announcement by Harris, who had been fighting to have his apparent victory certified.
“I believe a new election should be called,” Harris told the board, citing testimony he’d heard during the week. “It’s become clear to me the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.“
The pressure of the investigation took its toll on Harris. He had been hospitalized for an infection and apparently suffered two strokes, which Harris said interfered with his ability to recall events that transpired last year. His son John dramatically took the stand to reluctantly tell the election board that he’d warned his father not to get involved with Leslie McCrae Dowless, whose GOTV operation had been rumored to rely on fraud in the past. The e-mails the son sent to Harris had been a “bombshell” in the hearings, and Harris himself had wept as his son testified.
Freedman, Harris’ attorney, said his son’s testimony was a “tipping point” for Harris.
“The tipping point was his son told him, tried to warn him years ago about trusting too much. His son is now telling him this is tainted. His son is now telling him from the witness stand, it’s time for bipartisan support,” Freedman said. “He decided maybe he should listen to his son.”
At that point, Harris threw in the towel:
Republicans did get one piece of good news in the decision. Initially, Democrats wanted a rerun of the general election, pitting a politically damaged Harris against the Democrat who narrowly lost the election, Dan McCready. The state legislature in December passed a law mandating completely new elections starting from the primaries under these circumstances, which is what the board ordered yesterday. That will allow Republicans an opportunity to choose a different candidate, and it’s not even clear that Harris will attempt another run at the seat anyway. Given the health issues he’s facing, his family might insist on a quiet retirement from public life.
McCready’s legal team may challenge the order to force a runoff against Harris:
Thursday afternoon the state board of elections issued a press release saying “The State Board will set dates for new primary (and second primary, if necessary) and general elections at a subsequent meeting.”
Last December, the General Assembly passed a law mandating a new primary in the 9th Congressional District if the board of elections called for a new race.
Primary races typically fall under the guidelines of federal elections law so it is unclear whether North Carolina actually has the ability to call for a new primary or if there will be a legal challenge. Thursday, Dan McCready’s attorney Marc Elias declined to say whether they would challenge the new law requiring a primary.
If not, then perhaps the NC GOP can convince former incumbent Robert Pittenger to enter the primary. He had warned the party about Dowless’ activities in the past, and it appears that Pittenger might have been Dowless’ first victim in the 2016 cycle. That would give Republicans in the district at least some small claim for sympathy in a special election. It may not be much, but …