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Surprise Reversal in North Carolina's Ballot Fraud Inquiry

Elections board orders new election after Republican Mark Harris changes course
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 21, 2019 2:34 PM CST
Updated Feb 21, 2019 5:03 PM CST
Josh Lawson, chief counsel for the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, left, hands Mark Harris a document during a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th congressional district voting irregularities...   (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

(Newser) – North Carolina's elections board Thursday ordered a new election in the nation's last undecided congressional race after the Republican candidate conceded his lead was tainted by evidence of ballot-tampering by political operatives working for him. The State Board of Elections voted 5-0 in favor of a do-over in the mostly rural 9th Congressional District but did not immediately set a date, the AP reports. In moving to order a new election, board chairman Bob Cordle cited "the corruption, the absolute mess with the absentee ballots." The board action came after GOP candidate Mark Harris, in a surprising turn, dropped his bid to be declared the winner and instead called for a new election. He reversed course on the fourth day of a board hearing at which investigators and witnesses detailed evidence of ballot fraud by operatives on his payroll.

"Through the testimony I've listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called," Harris said. "It's become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted." At the same time, Harris denied any knowledge of the illegal practices allegedly used by those working on his behalf. He made the surprising reversal after his lawyers argued in recent legal filings to the board that he should be certified the winner. North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said he learned of Harris' decision only minutes before. The decision could leave the congressional seat empty for months, perhaps until the fall, board attorney Josh Lawson said. New primaries will be held in addition to a new general election, with the dates set by the elections board. (During Wednesday's testimony, Harris' son had some surprising things to say.)

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