GOP candidate says he made decision to hire ballot operative

December 14, 2018 - 9:29 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The GOP candidate in a disputed North Carolina congressional race said in an interview aired Friday that it was his decision to hire an operative who is now a person of interest in an investigation into how absentee ballots were handled.

Republican Mark Harris confirmed in an interview with WBTV in Charlotte that he hired McCrae Dowless for his campaign, but added he had no idea Dowless was doing anything wrong.

"He was being vouched for by a number of leaders down there," Harris said. "I had no reason to think that what he was doing was illegal."

Harris said Dowless was referred to him by a judge after a 9th District primary in 2016 when Harris finished third to a candidate who had used Dowless to help his own campaign. He said the judge told him if he chose to run again, the two would be introduced.

According to Harris, Dowless told him there was an absentee ballot program as well as a get-out-the-vote program he ran. Harris said Dowless told him he hired people who canvassed neighborhoods trying to encourage people to get involved by filling out an absentee ballot request form. They would return that form to the board of elections, he said.

The local elections board would mail the absentee ballot to the address and Dowless would have two people follow up once the ballots arrived, Harris said in describing the process. Those workers would knock on the door and offer assistance with the ballot, including witnessing the ballot, he said.

"I remember him saying specifically that they were not to take a ballot." Harris said in the interview. "They were not to touch a ballot."

The state elections board has declined to certify the 9th District results this year in light of mail-in absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County and other issues in Robeson County. Unofficial returns show Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. The board was scheduled to meet on the matter on Dec. 21, but announced Friday that the evidentiary hearing would be held on Jan 11, 2019.

Harris said the wait to settle the race is frustrating, but he said he hopes his campaign is exonerated.

"My hope is that McCrae hasn't done anything wrong," Harris said. "I'm waiting for the investigators to make that clear. That's all we can do."

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Information from: WBTV-TV, http://www.wbtv.com/