Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District election, issued a video Friday saying he would “wholeheartedly support” a new election if evidence emerges that criminal activity swayed the outcome of the Nov. 6 race.
“If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results” Harris said in the video.
Harris has been largely silent over the last week, as investigators have examined allegations that Harris’s campaign may have benefited from fraudulent collection of mail-in ballots.
In the new video, Harris sounded a different tone than last week, when he demanded that state election officials immediately certify the 9th District results and insisted that there was no evidence of enough ballot irregularities to affect his 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready.
Harris said in the video that he and his campaign “are cooperating fully” with investigators.
“I trust the process that’s underway, just as I’ve always trusted the decisions of the voters,” Harris said. “I trust that this investigation will be full and complete, examining any alleged irregularities that could have benefited either party — in this election or past election cycles.”
“The integrity of our electoral process is the heart of our democracy, and we must protect it,” he added. “And although I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing, that will not prevent me from cooperating with the investigation.”
He also said he remains hopeful that his unofficial lead over McCready will be certified by state election officials.
Allegations of fraud in November’s general election have put the outcome of the race in limbo as state investigators examine an unusual number of absentee mail-in ballots — many of them in Bladen County, which had the highest share of mail-in votes in the district, state records show.
After incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger lost the GOP primary to Harris in May amid similar irregularities, his aides warned state and national Republican officials that they believed there may have been fraud, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign, according to people familiar with the situation.
McCready withdrew his concession Thursday and called on Harris “to tell the American people exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”
“Over the last week, we have seen the criminal activity come to light, and we have seen that my opponent, Mark Harris, has bankrolled this criminal activity,” McCready told Charlotte-area TV station WSOC.
Investigators are scrutinizing the activities of a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who ran a get-out-the-vote effort for the Harris campaign during the primary and general elections, according to people familiar with the probe.
Witnesses have linked Dowless to an effort to collect absentee ballots from voters and are examining whether he or his associates filled out ballots or discarded them. It is illegal to collect or tamper with someone else’s ballot.
Dowless, who told the Charlotte Observer that he did not commit any wrongdoing, declined to comment Thursday. “I’m just not giving any comment at this time,” he told reporters and photographers in front of his house in Bladenboro, adding, “No disrespect to anybody.”
The irregularities may extend to other counties in the 9th District beyond Bladen. Throughout the county, 3,405 absentee ballots were requested but not returned, state records show, including 483 in Bladen, 1,197 in Robeson, 723 in Mecklenburg and 517 in Union.
Harris’s chief consultant, Andy Yates of the Red Dome Group, said in a statement Monday that Harris, a pastor from the suburbs of Charlotte, “was aware of Red Dome’s relationship with Mr. Dowless and believes like I do that Mr. Dowless operated within the bounds of the law.” Yates said Dowless assured him he was not illegally collecting ballots.
Last week, Harris said in a statement that “to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the Ninth District.”