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Election officials order new race for North Carolina's 9th

By Nicholas Sakelaris and Danielle Haynes

Feb. 21 (UPI) -- North Carolina election officials on Thursday ordered the state to hold a new election for the 9th Congressional District after uncovering an illegal absentee ballot scheme.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections made the decision after hearing four days of testimony about the race between Republican candidate Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The board has refused to certify the results of the election -- Harris finished with 905 more votes -- because of allegations of election fraud.

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Earlier Thursday, Mark Harris voiced his support for a new election despite the scheme which benefitted him.

"I believe a new election should be called," he said. "It's become clear to me the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."

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McCready welcomed the news.

"From the moment the first vote was stolen in North Carolina, from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud, the people have deserved justice. Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina," he said.

His son, John Harris, told the board he'd warned his father about the illegal tactics of a political operative, leaving the elder Harris in tears.

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"I love my dad and I love my mom," John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, said. "I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle, OK? I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them."

John Harris' testimony was a surprise, as his parents didn't know he would appear. Mark Harris repeatedly denied seeing any red flags about the efforts for his benefit by political operative McCrae Dowless.

John Harris said he first raised concerns during a 2016 primary race in which Mark Harris finished second and the third-place finisher received 221 of 226 mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County. When Mark Harris met with Dowless about running an absentee ballot program in Bladen and Robeson counties, John Harris said he warned his parents of potential legal ramifications. He said his father assured him Dowless operated legally.

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But Mark Harris provided email exchanges with his father about Dowless' practices in the 2016 race for another candidate -- messages that acknowledged it's a felony to mail someone else's ballot, even if they're placed in the voters' own mailboxes. He said his father assured him the work being done was legal.

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"Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No, I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right," John Harris said.

"They believed what McCrae had assured them," he added. "I didn't because I had done a deep dive into the numbers ... I was right, unfortunately for all of us."

Several witnesses have testified that Dowless paid them to collect ballots and filled out some himself, which would be a felony.

Andy Yates, chief consultant for the Harris campaign, said Dowless was paid more than $131,000 during the campaign to collect mail-in absentee ballot requests, for general expenses and as a monthly fee.

"Based on what [Dowless] told me, I had no reason to believe he was running an unlawful absentee ballot program," Yates testified Wednesday.

But John Harris said he'd warned Yates that Dowless was a "shady character" -- a conversation Yates said he didn't recall.

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