Charlotte, North Carolina: The unresolved House race in North Carolina’s 9th District took a dramatic turn as one of the candidate’s sons contradicted his father’s testimony, telling a court he’d warned him about the illegal tactics of a political operative.
The bombshell by John Harris Wednesday left his father, Republican candidate Mark Harris, in tears on the third day of a hearing by North Carolina’s State Board of Elections. The committee is trying to decide if the midterm race will be rerun — or if Harris’s 900-vote lead over Democra will be certified.
“I love my dad and I love my mom,” John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, said. “I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle, OK? I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.”
Harris’ testimony was a surprise, as his parents didn’t even know he would appear. Mark Harris had repeatedly denied seeing any red flags about the efforts for his benefit by political operative McCrae Dowless.
John Harris said he first raised concerns during a 2016 primary race where Mark Harris finished second and the third-place finisher received 221 of 226 mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County. When Mark Harris met with Dowless about running an absentee ballot program in Bladen and Robeson counties, John Harris said he warned his parents of potential legal ramifications. He said his father assured him Dowless operated legally.
But Mark Harris provided email exchanges with his father about Dowless’ practices in the 2016 race for another candidate — messages that acknowledged it’s a felony to mail someone else’s ballot, even if they’re placed in the voters’ own mailboxes. He said his father assured him the work being done was legal.
“Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No, I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right,” John Harris said.
“They believed what McCrae had assured them,” he added. “I didn’t because I had done a deep dive into the numbers … I was right, unfortunately for all of us.”
Several witnesses have testified that Dowless paid them to collect ballots and filled out some himself, which would be a felony.
Andy Yates, chief consultant for the Harris campaign, said Dowless was paid more than $131,000 during the campaign to collect mail-in absentee ballot requests, for general expenses and as a monthly fee.
“Based on what [Dowless] told me, I had no reason to believe he was running an unlawful absentee ballot program,” Yates testified Wednesday.
But John Harris said he’d warned Yates that Dowless was a “shady character” — a conversation Yates said he didn’t recall.
The proceedings will continue Thursday and the election panel is expected to decide soon if the race needs to be rerun.