What’s the political controversy in North Carolina’s 9th district?
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Election fraud investigation
Read more about the investigation into the 9th Congressional District
Mark Harris, the congressional candidate at the center of the unfolding election fraud scandal in North Carolina’s 9th District, said Friday that he would “wholeheartedly support” a new vote if fraud could have changed the outcome of his contest last month.
“If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election then I would wholeheartedly support a new election,” said Harris, in a video statement released by his campaign. He also said he was unaware of any wrongdoing and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, which he hopes will lead to his victory being certified before Congress starts its new session in January.
Harris has not taken questions from the media since the story first erupted last week, when the N.C. Board of Elections refused to certify the results of his race against Democrat Dan McCready. Harris could be seen at his southeast Charlotte home Friday, but a campaign representative said he would not be available for an interview.
He said he supports an investigation into voting irregularities that could have benefited “either party in this election or past election cycles.”
McCready, who initially conceded the Nov. 6 race after unofficial results showed him losing by 905 votes, withdrew his concession Thursday. He’s calling for Harris to explain what he knew about an alleged scheme to illegally collect absentee ballots in Bladen County and when.
“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marines just to come home to N.C. and watch a criminal, bankrolled by my opponent, take away people’s very right to vote,” McCready said Thursday.
The alleged election tampering, which would amount to a federal felony for every tampered vote, is under investigation by the office of Robert Higdon, the Raleigh-based U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina; the Wake County district attorney’s office; the State Bureau of Investigation; and, according to the Washington Post, the FBI.
The Harris campaign hired Cornelius-based political consultant Red Dome Group and paid them almost $430,000. Andy Yates, the founder and head of Red Dome, has said the firm hired Bladen political operative McCrae Dowless as an independent contractor. Dowless is alleged to have run an absentee-ballot-collecting operation that benefited Harris.
“My campaign and I are cooperating fully with the State Board of Elections investigation and we will continue to do so I trust the process that’s underway, just as I’ve always trusted the decisions of the voters,” said Harris. ““Although I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing that will not prevent me from cooperating,”
A campaign finance filing late Thursday shows the Harris campaign owes Red Dome $34,310 for “Reimbursement Payment for Bladen Absentee.”
The Board of Elections is planning to hold an evidentiary hearing by Dec. 21. They could call for a new election. Top Democrats in the U.S. House have also said they likely won’t seat Harris in Congress if he arrives next month, heightening the pressure for a new race. Dallas Woodhouse, the N.C. GOP’s executive director, said Thursday that the party is open to a new election if it can be shown that fraud could have changed the outcome.
“We will not oppose if the non-partisan Board of Election investigators determine the outcome of the race was changed or there is a substantial likelihood it could have been,” said Woodhouse.
But Robin Hayes, the state party chair, said he thinks Harris should be certified as the winner.
“Based on what we know at this point,” Hayes told The Charlotte Observer on Thursday, “we think Mark Harris fairly and correctly won this election and we think he should be certified.”
Harris won mail-in absentee ballots by a margin of 420 to McCready’s 258 in Bladen County. In the primary, when he defeated incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger by 828 votes, Harris’s margin in Bladen County was even bigger — 437 mail-in absentee votes to 17 for Pittenger.
McCready is raising funds again. An appeal email sent to supporters late Thursday asked for donations “to keep me in this fight until every vote in North Carolina is accounted for.”
“It appears that Mark Harris and his campaign hired a known criminal and bankrolled the operation,” the McCready campaign wrote.
Two supporters of McCready said that the Democrat held a conference call Friday, joined by an attorney. The McCready team stressed a commitment to getting to the bottom of the potential election fraud story, and indicated to participants that they can go back to contributing the maximum individual amount, $2,700, the participants said.
“Several of us have been asking that question, OK, can we give, what’s the limit, and so it was confirmed for us today that we can do that,” said Beth Monaghan, who has been active in the group Republicans for Dan. She added, “We are all blown away by the extreme irregularity, the fraud, I’m just so — ugh, I’m so mad, so disappointed in my party, the Republicans.”
Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who encouraged McCready to run and was actively involved in supporting McCready’s campaign, is again working to help him. The two Democrats, both veterans, were classmates at Harvard Business School.
“Seth and Dan have been in close contact, [Moulton is] helping provide Dan advice,” said Matt Corridoni, a spokesman for Moulton.
McClatchy Washington Bureau staff writers Katie Glueck and Greg Gordon contributed