CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Republican Mark Harris is speaking publicly for the first time since the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted to not certify the results of his race for Congress.
Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial returns from November’s election.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections took a surprise vote to not certify the results of that race in late November, after then-Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm raised questions of voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson Counties. The board later voted to hold an evidentiary hearing in the matter by December 21, 2018.
On Friday, the NCSBE announced that hearing would actually take place January 11, 2019.
Much of the public scrutiny surrounding the investigation has been aimed at a man named McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative who worked as a contractor for the Harris campaign in both this year’s primary and general election.
In his interview with WBTV Friday, Harris confirmed that it was his decision to hire Dowless for his campaign.
“I did. And readily,” Harris responded when asked if he, in fact, was the person who decided to hire Dowless onto his 2018 campaign.
Harris said the decision came after his primary loss to Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger in the 2016 campaign, when the candidate who finished third in that contest handily won the absentee ballots in Bladen County.
Harris said that he believed he was hiring Dowless to run an operation that encouraged voters to request absentee ballots and then, later, helped them cast those ballots by witnessing them and making sure voters put them in the mail.
At no time, Harris said, did he think Dowless was doing anything illegal.
“At anytime, did you have any indication that McCrae Dowless was doing something illegal?” a WBTV reporter asked.
“No, absolutely not," Harris said when asked if he had any indication Dowless was breaking the law in the course of working for his campaign.
“Had you had that, would you still continue to employ him?” the reporter continued.
“No, I would not have," Harris said. "Again, we kept emphasizing again and again that when he was describing the ballot to us. In fact when you get down to his description of the program, he was being vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.”
Harris said he was caught off guard by the NCSBE’s decision to not certify his race and said the uncertainty has meant he is unable to continue hiring staff or securing office space to move forward as an incoming member of Congress.
Despite that, Harris seemed hopeful that he would still take his seat in Congress after the investigation concluded.
“I am hopeful that the investigation being done by the board will ultimately produce a report that will make it clear that the outcome had not been changed and they can go ahead and certify. And I believe if they certify I will be seated,” Harris said.
During the interview, Harris also discussed the seeming lack of support coming from the Republican Party.
On Monday, North Carolina Republican Party leaders indicated they felt a new election was necessary because of questions surrounding the way in which early vote totals were tabulated in Bladen County. The handling of early vote totals was first addressed in an affidavit filed by the North Carolina Democratic Party.
Less than an hour before Harris spoke with WBTV Friday afternoon, party leaders circulated a new press release from the chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party that called on Harris to publicly respond to the ongoing accusations.
Harris stopped short of criticizing party officials when a reporter asked if he felt under attack from fellow Republicans.
“Well I certainly don’t feel the circling of the wagons around Harris the way I see the Democrats circling the wagons around McCready,” Harris said.