Last month, the North Carolina Board of Elections unanimously refused to certify the election of Republican Congressman-elect Mark Harris, who beat his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by about 900 votes. Harris, the only representative not to be seated when the new Congress convened last Thursday, is undergoing multiple investigations at the local and federal level for alleged voter fraud. But although he said he'd "wholeheartedly" endorse a new election if investigations proved his victory was tainted, Harris doesn't want to talk about it, as WSOC-TV reporter Joe Bruno learned last night.
Harris Employed a Convicted Felon Who Engaged in Voter Fraud
The allegations of fraud in the Harris campaign center around Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a political operative with a criminal record of felony convictions for fraud and perjury, as well as a misdemeanor charge for passing around a phony check in the late 80s and early 90s. Dowless first came to Harris's attention in 2016, when Harris lost the Republican primary for Congress but saw that Dowless's candidate, Todd Johnson, received a high number of absentee votes despite coming in last. Although GOP County Chairman Walter McDuffie warned Harris that this result probably came from illegal activity, he hired Dowless anyway.
During the Harris campaign, Dowless hired a team of volunteers to go door to door and obtain absentee ballot request forms from voters, which they'd then take to the board of elections. Later, they'd follow up with the voters and offer them assistance filling out the ballots, as well as offering to be witnesses if the ballots couldn't be notarized.
Collecting absentee ballots from strangers is illegal in North Carolina, and there's evidence that Dowless may have tampered with or even destroyed them. This past Christmas Eve, Joe Bruno learned that three voters had testified in sworn affidavits that they'd given their absentee ballots to a campaign volunteer who promised to deliver them to state officials, only to discover that their ballots were never counted. This practice was rampant throughout Bladen and Robeson Counties, which had suspicious ratios of ballot requests to uncounted votes. In addition, some of the ballots were returned incomplete or unsealed, which is also illegal under state law.
Harris Ran From Joe Bruno
Harris may have thought he had breathing room given that this Friday's hearing into the investigation has been postponed, but last night, at the Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, he learned that hiding from tough questions only makes you look like a guilty man.
Harris, who was there to address the local Republican Party, left the meeting only to find Bruno and his team following him with questions about the investigations. He then ducked through an unmarked door and ran down the stairs to avoid them, triggering an alarm as he exited through a fire exit. Bruno and the reporters went down the stairs after him, although one reporter got sort of trapped in the stairwell when he found that the door leading out of the stairwell back into the building doesn't open from the inside.
As they left the building, Bruno took this damning video on his cell phone of Harris sprinting across the street to the First Baptist Church parking lot, where he promptly hopped in his car and zipped off.
After Bruno's tweet went viral, Harris posted this response:
It did him no good. Security officers confirmed that he left the building to avoid the media, and he has been condemned by former North Carolina fire marshal Wayne Goodwin, who called his behavior "appalling."
Harris's actions made him seem like a man with something to hide, but it will likely make no difference to the Republican base or to other members of his party. Taking their cues from Donald Trump, their hostility towards the media has reached a boiling point, from Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes to the Trump Administration's harassment of CNN's Jim Acosta.
That's the saddest part about this incident: while comical in his ineptitude, Harris's actions were so commonplace that, to quote former presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson, "it hurts too much to laugh, and I'm too old to cry."
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