The North Carolina Democratic Party on Tuesday called on Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisTrump sparks debate over merits of voting by mail The Hill’s Campaign Report: Debate over mail-in voting heats up Bevin says he lost because liberals are ‘good at harvesting votes’ in urban areas MORE to address his ties to the man at the center of an investigation into electoral fraud allegations swirling in the state’s 9th District.
At a Tuesday press conference, NCDP Chair Wayne Goodwin urged Harris to answer a host of questions about his connection to Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who worked as an independent contractor for the Republican’s campaign and is being investigated by the state elections board.
Last week, Harris, a Baptist pastor, said in a video that he was “absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing” in the November election.
On Tuesday, Goodwin ran through a list of questions Democrats want Harris to answer, including when the Republican first met Dowless and who introduced the two, why he hired Dowless, if a background check was conducted, and what Harris thought the contractor “was being hired to do.”
“There has been one voice, however, that’s been absent from much of this election scandal,” Goodwin said at the state party’s headquarters in Raleigh. “Mark Harris has been hiding behind his lawyers and refusing to answer questions from voters and media.”
The campaign of Democrat Dan McCready also released a list of 10 questions for Harris to answer about his ties to Dowless.
Last week, McCready withdrew his concession and called on Harris to “end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew, and when.”
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Harris leads McCready, a veteran and businessman, by 905 votes in the race to replace Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerBottom Line North Carolina reporter says there could be ‘new crop’ of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race MORE (R-N.C.).
Pittenger lost to Harris in the state’s May primary and reportedly warned of suspected fraud related to absentee ballots during that election.
Last Friday, Harris released a video statement saying he’d be open to a new election if evidence emerges that illegal activity could have changed the outcome of the race.
Dowless has worked in Bladen County political circles for years and was convicted of perjury and fraud in the 1990s.
Several absentee ballot witnesses told WSOC-TV that Dowless paid them to collect absentee ballots and weren’t informed that it’s illegal in North Carolina.
Records analyzed by CNN found that Dowless submitted more than half of the absentee ballots in Bladen.
In an affidavit released by the state Democratic Party on Monday, a precinct worker in Bladen County alleged that early votes were tallied prior to the Nov. 6 elections, which was first reported by the Raleigh News & Observer.
That worker also alleged that outsiders were allowed to view those early votes, which violates state law.
At Tuesday’s press conference, state Sen. Floyd McKissick (D) said irregularities surrounding the absentee ballots disproportionately affected African American and Native American voters in the 9th District.
According to an analysis from The Washington Post, the rate of returned ballots was much higher among white voters than those of African-American and Native American voters, who are typically Democratic-leaning voters.
“African Americans and Native Americans are the central victims of this Republican scandal,” said McKissick, who is black. “These people have seen our Republican leaders in our state try to rig the system against them every step of the way.”
The state elections board has been investigating voting irregularities and potential absentee ballot tampering in Bladen and Robeson counties.
Both rural counties saw an unusually high number of ballot requests as well as a high number of unreturned ones.
The board is slated to hold an evidentiary hearing by Dec. 21 after deciding not to certify the results from the election, though the time and place have yet to be scheduled.
But the fate of the board remains in limbo after it was deemed unconstitutional by a court ruling, which argued that the body limited the governor’s authority.
A state court stayed that ruling to keep the current structure intact, which is set to expire noon on Wednesday. It’s unclear if that delay will be further extended for the board to wrap up its investigation.
NCSBE Chairman Joshua Malcolm wrote to state judges on Monday that the elections board may need more time to complete its investigation, according to The Associated Press.
He said people who have been subpoenaed in the probe have requested additional time to send more records.
The board also issued a subpoena to Red Dome Group, which is a political consulting firm that contracted Dowless. Federal Elections Commission filings show that Harris’s campaign owes about $34,000 to Red Dome for its work on absentee ballots.
The state elections board has the authority to call a new election, which would prompt a rematch between Harris, McCready and Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott.
But the U.S. House of Representatives also has the authority to decide not to seat Harris if he becomes the certified winner or to call for a new election altogether. That would trigger a new filing process as well as a new primary and general election.