RALEIGH, N.C. — Dec 7, 2018, 5:47 PM ET

GOP House candidate would back new election if fraud shown

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The Republican candidate in North Carolina's unresolved congressional race said Friday that he would support a new election if it's proved that fraud changed the outcome of a contest that was decided by 905 votes.

Mark Harris released a video statement addressing allegations of absentee ballot fraud less than a day after his campaign acknowledged in a federal filing that it owes $34,310 to a political consultant for work in a county where mail-in ballot problems emerged. The state Board of Elections has refused to certify election results that give Harris a slim lead while it investigates.

"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 to ensure all voters have confidence in the results," Harris said in the video.

He also said his campaign is cooperating with the investigation by the state board, but added: "I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing."

A Federal Election Commission filing by the Harris campaign late Thursday referred to money owed to the Red Dome Group for debts including: "Reimbursement Payment for Bladen Absentee, Early Voting Poll Workers; Reimbursement Door to Door."

Bladen County's absentee ballots are at the center of a fraud probe that prompted the state elections board to refuse last week to certify Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready in the state's 9th District. The board cited allegations of "irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" involving mail-in ballots, and subpoenaed both the Harris campaign and Red Dome for documents.

The board could order a new election after meeting later this month to consider the evidence. For now, the vote count remains unofficial, with Harris leading McCready by 905 votes in the district that stretches from the Charlotte area east through several counties.

Some Bladen County voters have said strangers came to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been fully completed or sealed in an envelope to keep them from being altered, according to affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party. State law allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

Red Dome hired Bladen County contractor McCrae Dowless, whose criminal record includes prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and a conviction for felony perjury in 1992.

The state board issued a statement Friday confirming that Dowless is a "person of interest" in the probe being led by four elections investigators with experience in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

According to documents released by the elections board, Dowless seems to have collected the most absentee ballot request forms in Bladen County this fall. A copy of the Bladen election board's log book shows Dowless turned in well over 500 applications.

The FEC report also lists two other debts totaling nearly $20,000 to Red Dome for digital advertising, robocalls and mailings for Harris. The filing says those mailings were in Robeson County, another area where the state board has sought information as part of its probe. The details were part of a wide-ranging post-election report on the campaign's finances.

McCready, expressing outrage over what he called a shameful attack on democracy, withdrew his concession in a video released late Thursday. He's demanding that Harris explain what he knows about the absentee ballot allegations.

"He hired a criminal who was under investigation for ballot fraud to do his absentee ballot work, and it looks like he got what he paid for," McCready told CNN on Friday.

Dowless declined to comment when visited by an Associated Press reporter this week at his home, and didn't immediately respond to a phone message Friday. Neither Harris, nor the head of the Red Dome Group, Andy Yates, responded to messages seeking comment.

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Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson and Emery P. Dalesio contributed to this report.

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Follow Drew at www.twitter.com/JonathanLDrew

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  • james

    If there is fraud I didn't know anything about it. Oh, and he'd be fine with another election. How about if we just give the election to the guy that really won?

  • penelope

    Why doesn't he do the right thing and concede, given that he wouldn't win in a redo. Save everyone money and save what might be left of his reputation.

  • allworld

    More proof of the GOP trying to turn our democracy into some 3rd world republic. This is just one of the latest moves by the GOP to take control of the government.

  • mrphilbert

    Where are drumpfs calls for jail time for voter fraud? Oh yeah, he is another fake Christian supporter so nevermind.

  • Devoted to USA

    Once upon a time, I was a Republican. Once upon a time, there were elected Republicans I respected.
    No more.
    They have become the party of Donald; fraught with Cons.

  • tom

    It is finally dawning on me why Republicans keep throwing out the voter fraud allegations: It is to deflect attention away from what they were doing. Wondering again if 2016 was legitimate from this standpoint. No GOP, you are unAmerican and unpatriotic.

  • Impetus

    There were only 900 votes between them, there's a good chance this affected the outcome

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    Well... you do not pay someone $35K to collect a few dozen ballots, that is for sure.

  • Cammosutra

    If Mark Harris ever gets to Washington, DC, I hope this Congress refuses to seat him. I believe they have the power to do so, and it would seem there are valid reasons to.

  • justanewsreader

    I would put nothing past the man that says a woman should be: "a SERVANT LOVER." Can you believe that. He is so right wing, it is unbelievable. He and his campaign set up the phony absentee ballot thing and now the people of North Carolina are regurgitating it on him. The House will not seat him in January because of this - but he could be in jail by then too.

  • Dicazi

    On Harris's bio, it says he graduated from a seminary. I don't know if he ever pastored a church, but a Christian should be demanding an investigation into this. And waiting til it's done to assume office.
    Instead, he wants his victory certified immediately.

  • (((Rocket Cat)))

    Lock them up, and throw every republican who's being silent on this in with them.

  • Davis

    if the economy slows down before 2020 the Republicans are out. It’s all they have.

  • Gargos

    This is the greatest social media gift this year.

    It has single-handedly destroyed the entire right-wing's argument over voter fraud.

  • ROBOTIX JONES

    Another crooked Republican. Shocking.......said no one ever.