Mark Harris cleared in NC-09 probe

Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Harris is leading Dan McCready for the 9th congressional district in a race that is still too close to call. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

RALEIGH — Former NC Ninth Congressional district candidate Dr. Mark Harris has been cleared in the probe related to absentee ballot harvesting case that triggered a new special election in the district in 2019.

“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,” said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman earlier today.

“Nearly 600 days ago I told the voters of the 9th district that my campaign would fully cooperate with investigators in a process that would ultimately reveal insufficient evidence to overturn an election,” said Harris in a statement.

“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. 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,” Harris said.

Harris had filed suit in January of 2019 that asked a North Carolina court to require that he be declared the winner because the now-defunct state elections board didn’t act. Harris had a narrow lead on Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial vote counts, but the North Carolina Board of Elections had refused to certify him as the winner. At the heart of the issue was a controversy over absentee ballots, a large number of which favored the Republican candidate in two rural counties in the district.

As the case unfolded, a ballot harvesting operation conducted by McCrae Dowless was uncovered in Bladen County. The hearings led the N.C. State Board of Elections to order a new election for the 9th Congressional District seat.

The investigation eventually led to the indictment of Dowless and several individuals who worked for him. The charges involved several allegations of ballot “harvesting” during both the 2016 and 2018 election cycles. As reported by the Associated Press, a federal grand jury also indicted Dowless in April on counts related to allegations he concealed money that he was paid for working for candidates during the 2018 election, leading to Social Security benefit fraud.

Despite the indictments, Dowless recently filed to run for a board seat on the Bladen Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisors.