Elections

Harris confirms it was his decision to hire operative at heart of 9th District scandal

Who is Mark Harris?

Republican and former pastor Mark Harris was the unofficial winner of the 9th District congressional seat over Dan McCready, but now he's at the center of a political scandal.
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Republican and former pastor Mark Harris was the unofficial winner of the 9th District congressional seat over Dan McCready, but now he's at the center of a political scandal.

Republican Mark Harris is speaking publicly for the first time since the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted to not certify the results of his race for Congress.

Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial returns from November’s election. The North Carolina State Board of Elections took a surprise vote to not certify the results of that race in late November, after then-Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm raised questions of voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties.

The board later voted to hold an evidentiary hearing in the matter by Dec. 218. On Friday, the NCSBE announced that hearing would actually take place Jan. 11.

Much of the public scrutiny surrounding the investigation has been aimed at a man named McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative who worked as a contractor for the Harris campaign in both this year’s primary and general election.

In his interview with WBTV Friday, Harris confirmed that it was his decision to hire Dowless for his campaign. Harris said the decision came after his primary loss to Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger in the 2016 campaign, when the candidate who finished third in that contest handily won the absentee ballots in Bladen County.

Harris said that he believed he was hiring Dowless to run an operation that encouraged voters to request absentee ballots and then, later, helped them cast those ballots by witnessing them and making sure voters put them in the mail. At no time, Harris said, did he think Dowless was doing anything illegal.

“No, absolutely not,” Harris said when asked if he had any indication Dowless was breaking the law in the course of working for his campaign. “Had you had that, would you still continue to employ him?” a WBTV reporter asked.

“No, I would not have,” Harris said. “Again, we kept emphasizing again and again that when he was describing the ballot to us. In fact when you get down to his description of the program, he was being vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.”

Harris said he was caught off guard by the NCSBE’s decision to not certify his race and said the uncertainty has meant he is unable to continue hiring staff or securing office space to move forward as an incoming member of Congress.

Read Next

McCrae Dowless is at the center of controversy in North Carolina's 9th district, but most of the time he's stayed behind the scenes.

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