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NC Orders New House Election           02/22 06:21

   RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The country's last vacant congressional seat will stay 
that way for months after North Carolina's election board, hearing evidence of 
ballot fraud and testimony that the Republican ignored warning signs, ordered a 
new election.

   GOP candidate Mark Harris gave up his fight Thursday to be declared winner 
of November's 9th congressional district race, saying serious public doubts 
about the contest's fairness revealed in testimony this week warrant a new 
election.

   Harris had struggled during testimony at a special state elections board 
hearing to explain why he was being truthful in saying publicly since Election 
Day he'd never been warned about a North Carolina's felon's vote-getting 
efforts despite repeated data-based red flags from his son dating to mid-2016.

   WAS THIS AN EXAMPLE OF BALLOT FRAUD?

   North Carolina's elections director said this week that a local political 
operative in a rural corner of the 9th district conducted an illegal and 
well-funded ballot-harvesting operation during the 2018 election cycle while 
working for Harris. Leslie McCrae Dowless' workers in Bladen County testified 
that they were directed to forge signatures, collect blank or incomplete 
ballots voters handed over, and even fill in votes for local candidates who 
hadn't earned them.

   WERE CRIMES COMMITTED?

   It's a felony under North Carolina law for anyone other than a guardian or 
close family member to handle a mail-in ballot because it poses the risk that 
they could be altered or discarded. The means ballot-harvesting --- efforts to 
collect completed ballots --- are illegal. A similar ballot-collection effort 
by Dowless and others was investigated by the state elections board after the 
2016 elections. The findings were shared with federal prosecutors, who took no 
action. The district attorney in the state's capital city continues to weigh 
charges over the 2016 ballot fraud case.

   WHEN ARE ELECTIONS?

   The election board will establish dates for new elections, starting with the 
filing deadlines for primary elections. A state law approved in December --- 
after the absentee voting irregularities surfaced --- requires that both party 
primaries and a general election be held. State and federal deadlines and 
ballot requirements mean the general election may not occur until late summer 
or early fall.

   WHO WILL RUN?

   McCready is certainly running for the seat again and has been assembling a 
new campaign staff. His campaign finance report showed McCready raised $487,000 
during the final five weeks of 2018, an amount which should stave off other 
well-known Democratic competitors. His campaign sent out a campaign funding 
plea late Thursday, citing the new election. Harris didn't say Thursday whether 
he'd run in the new election, and state Republican Party Executive Director 
Dallas Woodhouse said it was too early to say what Harris' political future 
would be. Several other Republicans are likely to enter the race for the 
GOP-leaning 9th District. The most recent 9th District incumbent, Republican 
Robert Pittenger, declined to comment Thursday but said in December he wouldn't 
run if a new election were held.

   WHO WILL WIN?

   The demographic and partisan data favor a Republican in the 9th District, 
which a Republican has held for more than 50 years. McCready enjoyed a large 
fundraising advantage over Harris and a national Democratic wave last fall for 
an extremely close race. It's unclear if any GOP nominee would be punished at 
the polls for Dowless' alleged misdeeds and apparent inability of Harris or 
Republican Party leaders to stop him, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic 
consultant and ex-congressional candidate: "I don't know if people will pay a 
price for it." Veteran Republican consultant Carter Wrenn said he doesn't know 
what to think: "About all that you can say for sure is that it's a mess."


(KA)

 
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