By Erin Smith
Republican candidate Mark Harris asked for a new election on Thursday afternoon. Following the lunch break, Harris read a prepared statement into the record requesting a new election.
In his statement, Harris said he fell ill in late December/early January and on January 18th, he suffered two strokes and became septic. Harris said he thought he was recovered and ready for the rigors of the hearing but “clearly I am not,” read Harris.
In his statement, Harris said he has struggled to recall things clearly and he apologized for that. He said neither he nor anyone on his campaign was aware nor condoned the activities that had been revealed in testimony this week. He asked the NC State Board of Elections to hold a new election.
On Thursday morning, Harris testified regarding voting irregularities in the 9th Congressional District race. Harris’ attorney requested a closed session effectively ending questioning by the NC State Board of Elections. He did not state his reason for a closed session.
Harris spent the morning Thursday answering questions regarding his son, John Harris’ testimony on Wednesday that he had warned Mark Harris regarding McCrae Dowless. John Harris is a federal prosecutor in Raleigh and Mark Harris said he brushed off his son’s concerns and considered it part of a “family conversation”.
Under questioning regarding a series of email conversations between Mark Harris and son, John Harris, NC State Board of Elections member Jeff Carmon said it seems that Harris “just wanted to win.” Harris did not give an immediate response.
Under further questioning about a series of email conversations with his son, Mark Harris said at the time, he felt his son was simply overreacting to the situation. Mark Harris testified that in looking back, he was reading the emails as a father, not as a political candidate. He testified that if it happened today, he would read those emails differently.
The NC State Board of Elections panel also displayed their annoyance that once it was learned John Harris was subpoenaed to testify, the Mark Harris campaign did not produce email conversations that were requested by the NC State Board of Elections.
Under questioning from NC State Board of Elections Director Kimberly Strach, Harris described the first meeting he had with Dowless in Elizabethtown. He said that the meeting occurred a couple of weeks after a telephone call to a friend. Harris said the friend told him he wished he had made contact with McCrae Dowless.
“I said, ‘Who is McCrae Dowless?’“ recalled Harris. He explained that his friend told him Dowless was a “good ole boy” in Bladen County and that he knew everyone. Harris said he was told Todd Johnson used McCrae Dowless for his 2016 campaign.
Harris described how in March 2017, Judge Marion Warren messaged him seeking pastors to attend an event. Harris said he was interested in the event and over the course of conversation with Judge Warren, he told him he was interested in considering running for office. Harris recalled Judge Warren offering to set up a meeting with Dowless and others.
Harris said the meeting took place at Ray’s Furniture in Elizabethtown. Harris testified that those in attendance included Pat Melvin, Ray Britt, Walter McDuffie and McCrae Dowless. Harris also testified that Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker was supposed to attend the meeting but was unable to due to a funeral.
Harris testified it was during this meeting that Dowless described his absentee ballot operation. Harris said Dowless explained it worked in two phases. The first phase, involved sending volunteers door-to-door to encourage people to complete request forms for absentee ballots. The phase involved volunteers returning to those voters and offering assistance with their ballots such as witnessing the ballots. Harris claimed that Dowless said his volunteers were not supposed to collect the ballots but rather make sure the voter was reminded to mail their ballot in.
Harris testified that when he described Dowless’ absent ballot program, his son, John Harris, believed Dowless was somehow collecting the absentee ballots.
The Chairman of the NC State Board of Elections, Bob Cordle, also noted for the record that the NC State Board of Elections held meetings with the District Attorney and “nothing was done.”