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Following Allegations of Electoral Misconduct, North Carolina Might Get A New Election

Dec 12, 2018
Originally published on December 12, 2018 6:49 pm
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It's looking increasingly likely that when the new Congress convenes early next month, there won't be a representative from North Carolina's 9th District. Democratic and Republican leaders now say a new election may be necessary because of allegations of fraud and improper conduct.

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In that contest, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial vote tally. But investigators are looking into whether an operative for Harris illegally collected and tampered with absentee ballots. NPR's Miles Parks is in North Carolina covering this story. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Bring us up to speed with the latest on this investigation.

PARKS: So it does seem like every day more evidence becomes public that raises questions about this race. The person at the center of the investigation is a man named McCrae Dowless, who was hired by a political consulting firm that was doing work for the Republican, Mark Harris. This week, a man came forward with a signed affidavit to say he saw Dowless with 800 absentee ballots in his possession prior to the election. Now, it's illegal in North Carolina to turn in just one absentee ballot that's not yours or a relative's, and this man says Dowless had 800.

In another turn, the state Board of Elections released documents that indicated early vote totals may have been improperly tabulated before Election Day at one precinct. Now, that is just at this point what's public. The investigation has also been going on for over a week, so we have no idea what other information could be out there that could cast more doubt on this race.

SHAPIRO: So at this point, what is the likelihood that there will be another election?

PARKS: It is getting higher with each revelation that comes out. A week and a half ago, Republicans were strongly opposed to a new election. But now they're citing especially the potentially leaked early voting results to say that a new election may be needed. Democrats, on the other hand, have been calling for a new election since they learned about Dowless' efforts related to absentee ballots.

State law does say a new election can be called if irregularities cast doubt on the outcome. And at this point, enough people have come forward to say it's likely that Dowless had possession of a lot of ballots, which obviously leads to the next question of how many of those ballots were actually turned in or whether those ballots were manipulated in some way.

SHAPIRO: You've been out there talking with North Carolina voters in the 9th District. What are they telling you?

PARKS: So what's really interesting here is how unsurprising this whole story is to a lot of people. Bladen County, which is kind of the epicenter of this story - it's a small rural community. And everyone I've talked to either knows Dowless or knows of Dowless. He's been sort of this kind of absentee ballot whisperer in local elections here for years, which itself leads to the million-dollar question. If everyone in the community knew Dowless was picking up ballots - which, again, is illegal in - by North Carolina law - did Republican candidate Mark Harris know that?

I talked to Rodney Baxley, who's a barber in Bladen County. His shop is considered one of the big hangout spots. He said it's hard to imagine that Harris had no idea about Dowless' tactics.

RODNEY BAXLEY: You would think if you're running for that seat that you'd dot your I's and cross your T's and find out who's working for you. You know what I'm saying? And it just goes to show you how sleazy politics are.

PARKS: Harris hasn't spoken publicly about the investigation, except for he released a video this past weekend where he said he didn't know anything illegal was going on. But he did - and he did say that he would support a new election as long as irregularities showed that they actually affected the outcome of the race.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Miles Parks joining us from North Carolina. Thank you.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.