The North Carolina Republican Party said Thursday that it would be open to a new election in the state’s ninth U.S. congressional district, where an absentee ballot probe is underway, if investigators can show “substantial likelihood” that the alleged fraud scheme changed the outcome of the race. Republican candidate Mark Harris unofficially leads in the race by just 905 votes over the Democrat Dan McCready.
“If they can show with certainty that the outcome could NOT have been changed, they need to certify Mr. Harris and continue to support all state and federal criminal investigations,” Dallas Woodhouse (pictured above), the executive director of the state’s GOP, told TPM in an email.
“If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race then we fully would support a new election,” he said. “If they hold a public hearing and simply can’t determine one way or the other then, We would not oppose a short delay on the question of certification until they have more answers.”
Earlier this week, Woodhouse was pushing for the state board of elections to “immediately” certify Harris’ victory while it continued its investigation.
Thursday, he said the party supported the board’s move to hold a hearing later this month.
The board on Friday refused to certify the race, and voted to hold a hearing by December 21 on the evidence it finds on the alleged scheme. It is possible the board could call for a new election.
The state board of elections is scrutinizing absentee voting in Bladen County, where Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in ballots despite registered Republicans making up only 19 percent of absentee voters in the county. Harris also performed disproportionately high in absentee voting in his primary against incumbent Rep. Robert Pottinger (R).
Of particular concern is an absentee voting operation apparently run by a local operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was reportedly working as a contractor for a consulting firm hired by Harris’ campaign. Dowless is accused of paying workers to pick up absentee ballots it certain areas of the county. North Carolina law only allows the voters themselves or their close relatives to turn in their mail-in ballots.
A congressional candidate for whom Dowless reportedly worked in 2016 also performed extremely well in absentee voting, despite finishing third in the race.
Dowless has denied any wrongdoing, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Some of the Bladen County residents who believe they were approached by the workers told reporters that they didn’t request the absentee ballots they were sent and were asked to hand over the ballots for the workers to submit. Others reported turning over their absentee ballots to the workers, only to find out later from election officials that the ballot was never submitted to the state.
While state investigators continue their probe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who is likely to become House Speaker in January — has suggested that the House might not seat Harris if questions about his election remain.
Woodhouse in his email Thursday acknowledged this possibility, while discussing a possible delay in the certification if the board can’t come to a final conclusion this month.
“While this is a horrible outcome for the more than 750,000 people who would be unrepresented in Congress, that is already likely because U.S. House Democratic leadership have already said they are unlikely to seat Mr. Harris,” he said.