One month after the midterm elections, a U.S. House race involving a Southern Baptist pastor is still in dispute.
The Rev. Mark Harris stepped down as pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte 18 months ago to run for Congress as a Republican in North Carolina’s 9th District. After the November 6 election, several news organizations named Harris the winner, and his opponent, Democrat Dan McCready, conceded. But last week the state election board refused to certify the results, citing “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots.”
Unofficial results have Harris leading by 905 votes out of almost 283,000 votes cast. Later this month, the board will meet to review evidence and consider whether to call for a new election.
Mark Harris’ Campaign at the Center of the Controversy
Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative who worked for the Harris campaign, faces suspicions of ballot harvesting and possible ballot tampering. In Bladen County, Dowless submitted almost half the requests for absentee ballots, records show. But only about half of the absentee ballots in that country were returned, which is low compared to other areas of the state. Many of the unreturned absentee ballots belonged to African-American and Native American voters.
The bipartisan elections board received six sworn statements from voters who say people came to their homes, asking for their absentee ballots. In some cases, the ballots weren’t complete. It’s illegal for a third party to submit absentee ballots.
On November 30, Harris tweeted, “I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties. There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.” He added that the board should immediately certify the race while continuing its investigation.
Fraud allegations also occurred in 2016, when Dowless protested a race in which he was a candidate. When his own actions were questioned, Dowless acknowledged hiring people to encourage voters to submit absentee ballot requests, but he denied handling the ballots.
In 1992, Dowless was convicted of felony perjury, and three years later he served prison time for felony fraud. He has denied any wrongdoing in the 2018 election.
Mark Harris Is a Conservative Political Voice
Harris, a past president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, supported the state’s Amendment 1 in 2012, banning same-sex marriage. He also supported a controversial “bathroom bill” requiring people to use facilities based on the gender listed on their birth certificates.
Harris, 52, has encouraged pastors to get involved with politics, saying there’s “a tremendous need for voices that are going to stand on righteousness, that recognize where we are moving as a nation.”
During his congressional campaign, Harris faced scrutiny for controversial ideas. In a 2013 sermon, he questioned if women should pursue careers, advocating for a return to “biblical womanhood.” Harris also has called Islam “dangerous.”
On December 4, his campaign said Harris has never been aware of wrongdoing among his staff and volunteers, of whom he expects above-board behavior. The campaign also said Harris trusts the election process and God’s role in it.