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Mark Harris won't face state charges in N.C. 9th District ballot fraud case

Dan Kane, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in News & Features

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former congressional candidate Mark Harris will not face state criminal charges in the ballot-fraud case that led to a redo of NorthCarolina's 9th District general election in 2018, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Wednesday.

"Following more than a year of investigation by multiple State and Federal agencies into the involvement of former Congressional candidate Mark Harris and the Harris Campaign into the absentee ballot operations in Bladen County during the 2018 General Election, our office has concluded that there is not evidence which would support a criminal case against Dr. Harris and therefore, is closing the matter as to him," Freeman said in a news release.

"Charges against multiple individuals including Mr. McCrae Dowless who was hired by the Harris campaign remain pending and investigators continue probing other areas of evidence."

Republican Harris had hired Dowless, a longtime Bladen County political operative, to handle absentee ballot gathering, and had appeared to win the seat by a narrow margin over Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. But the State Board of Elections refused to certify the election after receiving information that Dowless had manipulated absentee ballots.

A special election was later held in which a different Republican, former state Sen. Dan Bishop, won the seat.

Dowless, 64, faces three felony charges of obstruction of justice, two charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two charges of possession of absentee ballot. He also faces federal charges related to collecting Social Security disability payments while being paid to work political campaigns.

"It is critically important that the public be able to trust the electoral process," Freeman, a Democrat, said in the release. "Candidates for elected office have a duty to uphold the public's faith by not only following the law, but by exercising sound judgment. Dr. Harris' decision to relinquish his seat and call for a new election in which he did not participate were important steps in restoring the confidence of the voters in District 9."

 

Harris, a former Baptist pastor in Charlotte who now leads a church in Mooresville, cried during the election board's hearing into the case early last year, as his son testified that he had warned his father that he suspected Dowless was illegally harvesting absentee ballots.

Harris said in a statement Wednesday that he had told voters when allegations surfaced that his campaign would fully cooperate with investigators.

"I am personally grateful for the detailed investigation by the Wake County District Attorney and the cooperating federal and state agencies to finally restore my reputation," Harris said. "I trust the investigators will continue their work so North Carolina voters can be assured that their vote counts in a system that follows the rule of law."

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