The alleged scheme has ended up in criminal charges that represent a dramatic coda to months of wrangling over a closely fought contest that left the seat unfilled and North Carolina the only state with unsettled election results.
In the email sent on Tuesday, the party wrote — in bold print — that “DEMOCRATS have forced a SPECIAL ELECTION in North Carolina, and the race is TIED!”
Not mentioned was the fact that the race for the 9th District seat was thrown into turmoil after the North Carolina State Board of Elections began investigating reports of absentee ballots collected by Leslie McCrae Dowless, a man hired by then-GOP candidate Mark Harris.
In the immediate aftermath of the balloting, Harris claimed victory but almost immediately questions were raised about absentee ballots.
The state board of elections had voted in December not to certify the results in which Harris, a Baptist minister, led Democrat Dan McCready, a businessman and retired Marine, by 905 votes.
After an investigation, a new election was ordered.
Kim Strach, the executive director of the board of elections, said Dowless’ alleged scheme was a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”
In the board’s evidentiary hearing, Harris testified that he did hire Dowless — a convicted felon — specifically for his “absentee ballot program” but maintained he did not know about any illegal activity. Harris testified at the hearing that he knew Dowless had a criminal history but was not aware of the nature of his past.
People who worked for Dowless described, under oath, illegally collecting ballots, forging witness signatures and even filling in any races left blank on unsealed ballots. Two women testified that Dowless told them to lie or invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when subpoenaed for the hearing.
His attorney, Cynthia Singletary, said, “Do I think he’s guilty of that? No. There’s always the possibility of some kind of charges. I’ve been practicing for 32 years and had lots of innocent clients charged with things I didn’t think they were guilty of.”
Harris eventually called for a new election during his testimony at the hearing.
“I believe a new election should be called, it has become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seats general election has been undermined, to an extent that a new election is warranted,” Harris said at the February hearing.
The bipartisan board then unanimously voted that a new election should be held. Harris has since announced that he would not run in the new election, citing health reasons.
Ten Republicans, McCready, one member of the Green Party and one member of the Libertarian Party have all declared for the new election. The GOP primary will be held on May 14 and the general election is set for September 10. However, if a run-off is required in the Republican primary, which would happen if no candidate receives more than 30% of the vote, the GOP run-off would be held on September 10 and the general election would be held on November 5, just one day shy of the original vote in the race during the 2018 midterms.
North Carolina has been selected by the GOP to host its 2020 national convention in Charlotte, a city partially in the 9th District.