Democratic candidate Dan McCready withdrew his concession Thursday in North Carolina’s still very murky 9th Congressional District race, where accusations of voter fraud leveled against his opponent Republican Mark Harris’ campaign have raised questions about the legitimacy of the Nov. 6 vote. “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 activity,” McCready said in an interview to local TV station WSOC. “As of today, I am withdrawing my concession to Mark Harris and, furthermore, I call on Mark Harris to tell the people exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”
McCready conceded the race the day after the election, and Harris, a pastor who knocked off the Republican incumbent in the GOP primary, now holds an unofficial lead of 905 votes over the former Marine. The 9th District has historically been deep red and represented by a Republican in Congress for more than five decades. After the initial results, McCready did not ask for a recount, despite being legally entitled to one because of the close margin, saying at the time: “For me now, country over party means offering my help to Mark, which I did by phone, as he takes over his new job representing us.”
Since then, McCready has stayed largely out of public view as alleged breaches of election law, centering around the collection of absentee ballots in two counties in particular, have prompted the state elections board to refuse to certify the election. A broader state inquiry is now underway into whether an operative working on behalf of the Harris campaign illegally collected incomplete absentee ballots from voters in two counties. It is against the law in North Carolina for a third party to collect absentee ballots. The operative in question, Leslie McCrae Dowless, was hired as an independent contractor by a consulting firm for the Harris campaign and is alleged in some instances to have altered absentee ballots in Harris’ favor and in others to have collected and discarded ballots supporting McCready. The absentee ballot returns in Bladen and Robeson* counties, where Dowless operated, showed pretty significant statistical anomalies compared with the rest of the counties’ returns.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections said it will hold a hearing on the allegations by Dec. 21 and determine a course of action that could include a revote. There’s also the possibility that the leadership in the House of Representatives could refuse to seat Harris, if the allegations remain unresolved. Even North Carolina Republicans appear to be bracing for another round. “We are not ready to call for a new election yet,” North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said. “I think we have to let the board of elections come show their hand. If they can show that this conceivably could have flipped the race in that neighborhood, we will absolutely support a new election.”
Correction, Dec. 7, 2018: This post originally misspelled Robeson County.