RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) – Republican Mark Harris said ‘political weaponization’ was to blame for the decision by North Carolina State Board of Elections to not certify his victory in the race for the 9th Congressional District.
Harris’ comments came in an interview with WBTV following a two-hour interview with Harris, his lawyers and investigators from the NCSBE on Tuesday morning.
Board investigators are probing allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson Counties that surfaced as part of the board’s decision to not certify Harris’ race, which he won in November over Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes.
A contractor from Harris’ campaign—a man named McCrae Dowless, who Harris told WBTV in a previous interview he personally made the decision to hire—has emerged as a central figure in the board’s investigation.
Affidavits filed by the North Carolina Democratic Party and, separately, McCready’s campaign have accused Dowless and people who worked for the Bladen County political operative of running an illegal ballot harvesting operation.
Dowless, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.
In his interview Thursday, Harris questioned the significance of the affidavits that have been submitted to the board alleging wrongdoing by Dowless and his employees.
“It almost seems that as quick as an affidavit comes out, within hours you get something that’s extremely disputed,” Harris said. “The affidavits, at this point, I’m not sure what their value is. We don’t have a Board of Elections now. We don’t even have a process at this point of how this is going to end which is why we’ve taken the action that we’ve taken and that is to ask a superior court judge here in Wake County to certify this race.”
Harris was referring to a new legal action filed by his attorneys in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday morning.
The filings, specifically called a writ of mandamus, seeks an order from a judge requiring the director of the NCSBE to certify Harris as the winner of the 9th District race.
The beginning of the brief outlines four reasons Harris should be certified.
“Because (1) time is of the essence; (2) the former State Board was promulgated to an unconstitutional statute and therefore any action taken by it is void ab initio; (3) the former State Board operated outside of any statutory authority; and (4) the new term for the incoming North Carolina State Board of Elections under N. C. Gen. State. 163-19(b) will not begin for many weeks, the uniform finality of a federal election is endangered by the State Board’s actions and the citizens of the 9th District have no representation in Congress.”
A Wake County court administrator said late Thursday afternoon that reply briefs in Harris’ new filing were due by Monday, January 14. A hearing would be scheduled sometime after that.
Harris’ opponent, McCready, responded to the latest action’s from Harris to have the race certified in a lengthy thread of Tweets late Thursday afternoon.
“In light of Mark Harris’ press event today, let’s remember that Harris is under investigation for unprecedented election fraud perpetrated by his campaign, spearheaded by a man he handpicked and paid to produce votes. He is not the victim here, the voters are,” McCready’s first tweet said.
McCready has previously scheduled an interview with WBTV, then abruptly cancelled, promised to reschedule and never did.
Harris, who said it was ‘disappointing’ to be in Raleigh on Thursday instead of being sworn in as a new member of Congress, said he continued to remain hopeful that he would ultimately be certified as the winner of the race.
“We’re hopeful. We’re hopeful because we do feel like that there’s some cases that are very similar in the sense that, when there isn’t a State Board of Elections, that you look to the county boards as the final authority,” Harris said. “And, in this case, all eight county boards actually certified this race.”
“Lets say you’re successful, the court certifies you and you get seated in Washington. There are a lot of people in the 9th District and across the country who are going to question the validity of you taking that seat. Would you feel comfortable taking the seat knowing there are questions out there and people who think you shouldn’t go to Washington?” a reporter asked.
“Well, absolutely! And the reason I think that is because we had an election. And when you go through an election – and there are many elections that there are questions raised or complaints filed and they look at the facts of the case and they come to recognize that even the number of ballots in question would not have changed the outcome of the election,” Harris said. “And they’re not going to seat me in Washington unless I have a certificate from North Carolina. And the fact that we’re going to be certified from North Carolina, I’m very comfortable going and representing the 9th District.”
Ultimately, Harris said, the refusal to certify his race and the ongoing investigation amounted to an attack on his reputation.
“I’m standing on my reputation over the last 30 years of my adult life as a senior pastor, as a community servant, as somebody who has sought to lead and as somebody who has been there and walked through life with people, I will continue to be that and I will let my reputation stand over the last 30 years and believe that people are wise enough to see through the political weaponization of a state agency that can sometimes happen when it falls into the wrong hands,” he said.
“You stand by that this was a partisan stunt, if you will,” a reporter asked. “Partisanship drove your race to not be certified?”
“Well, I thin it’s important to understand there are still investigations that are going on today into the 2016 elections,” Harris responded.
The US House Clerk has said the office is working to open a 9th District office with staff to continue serving the district’s constituents. The office did not immediately respond to a request Thursday seeking a timeline on if or when that office will open in the new Congress.
Harris said he would continue fighting for certification or, alternatively, seek election if a new contest were to be ordered.
“We’ve won two elections: a primary and a general election. And we’re going to keep running until we’re stopped and we’re told ‘no’!” he said.