House Democrats Threaten Rare Move Over NC Seat

Unless allegations about absentee voting are resolved, they won't seat GOP's Mark Harris
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2018 8:47 AM CST
Updated Dec 4, 2018 1:10 PM CST
In North Carolina, Voter Fraud Allegations Hold Up a Race
Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Harris is leading Dan McCready for the 9th congressional district in a race that is still too close to call.   (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

(Newser) – Election 2018 is not quite over yet: A House race in North Carolina remains uncalled amid some fishy business regarding absentee ballots. In the race, Republican Mark Harris is leading Democrat Dan McReady by just 905 votes, but the bipartisan state board of elections has declined to certify the results as it investigates. One possibility: The board could call for a new election. Another: House Democrats could refuse to seat Harris next year, if they think there's still enough doubt about his win. The details:

  • The key figure: The controversy centers on a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless, an independent contractor who worked for the Harris campaign, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. In fact, he also worked for Harris in the candidate's narrow primary win. Dowless, who denies any wrongdoing, has prior convictions for felony perjury and insurance fraud.
  • The first step: Dowless hired people to encourage voters, particularly low-income voters in Bladen County, to cast absentee ballots. "He gets workers to go get people to sign up on a sheet of paper for an absentee ballot," a man who describes himself as a former friend tells CNN. "Say you live in a Section 8 housing area, they will collect these requests. He says you don't have to leave your house, you can just vote at home."
  • The problem: Dowless' crew allegedly picked up those absentee ballots from the voters, some of them still unsealed, and returned them to Dowless. One woman tells reporter Joe Bruno WSOC-TV that Dowless paid her up to $100 to collect and return ballots to him, and she has no idea what happened to them after that. Under state law, only the voters themselves or designated relatives are allowed to mail in their ballots, reports the Washington Post.
  • The allegations: State investigators are looking into claims that the absentee ballots were tampered with or simply not turned in. Investigators have turned up numerous people, mostly minorities, whose absentee ballots were never turned in to be counted. Typically, these would be voters who support Democrats.

  • Suspicious numbers: The race is for the state's 9th district, and the News & Observer found that more than 40% of absentee ballots in the district requested by African Americans were never returned. For Native Americans, the figure was 60%. For white voters, the percentage was just 17%.
  • Hoyer's threat: Democrats will control the House next year, and current whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday they may refuse to seat Harris if North Carolina officials don't adequately clear everything up. “The House ... has the authority over the propriety of the election," he said, per the Hill. "This is a very substantial question [and] it ought to be resolved before we seat any member."
  • Harris' view: "Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties," the presumptive winner said in a tweet. But, he added, "There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race." The state could declare a new election anyway if it finds evidence of fraud.
  • Who knew what: Harris' top strategist, Andy Yates, says the campaign "believed (Dowless) was working within the confines of North Carolina law." Dowless was technically working for a GOP consulting firm called Red Dome. The elections board has information suggesting that "high-level officials" in the Harris campaign knew precisely what Dowless was doing, the Post reports. Red Dome is expected to receive a subpoena soon; the Harris campaign already has gotten one.
  • What's next: The elections board has a hearing scheduled for Dec. 21.
(Read more Election 2018 stories.)

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