2018 North Carolina's 9th congressional district election

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2018 North Carolina's 9th congressional district election

← 2016 November 6, 2018 2019 (special) →
 
Candidate Mark Harris Dan McCready
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 139,246 138,341
Percentage 49.25%
(results not certified)
48.93%
(results not certified)

U.S. Representative before election

Robert Pittenger
Republican

Elected U.S. Representative

Vacant

The 2018 election in North Carolina's 9th congressional district was held on November 6, 2018, to elect a member for North Carolina's 9th congressional district to the United States House of Representatives.

The incumbent, Republican Robert Pittenger, lost his party's nomination to Mark Harris. Initial tallies put Harris 905 votes ahead of Democrat Dan McCready, but fraud allegations prevented the election results from being certified, and as a result, the seat went unrepresented since the start of the 116th Congress.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections held an evidentiary hearing in February 2019.[1] On February 21, the board unanimously voted to call a new election.[2] Several campaign operatives have been indicted for their role in an illegal ballot harvesting operation.

Background[edit]

North Carolina's 9th congressional district since January 3, 2017

The ninth district is in south-central North Carolina. It comprises Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties; the southeast portion of Mecklenburg County; and parts of Cumberland and Bladen counties.[3] The district has been held by the Republican Party since 1963.[4]

Robert Pittenger, a Republican, was elected to represent the district in 2012. In the 2016 election, Pittenger was challenged for the Republican nomination by Mark Harris and Todd Johnson. Pittenger won the nomination, defeating Harris by 134 votes.[5] Questions were raised about the role of convicted perjurer and campaign operative McCrae Dowless, when Johnson won 221 of the 226 Bladen county absentee votes cast in the race.[6] Pittenger was re-elected in 2016 over Democratic Party nominee Christian Cano by over 54,000 votes.[3]

Democratic primary[edit]

  • Christian Cano[7]
  • Dan McCready, entrepreneur and former U.S. Marine[8]

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) supported McCready during the primary election.[3] He was among the first 11 candidates added to the DCCC's "Red to Blue" program.[9]

Primary results[edit]

Democratic primary results[10]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Dan McCready 38,098 82.8
Democratic Christian Cano 7,922 17.2
Total votes 46,020 100.0

Republican primary[edit]

Harris resigned from his church in June 2017 in order to devote his full attention to the 2018 campaign.[14] Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson campaigned for Pittenger during the primary election campaign.[3] Harris criticized Pittenger for voting in favor of the March 2018 omnibus spending bill, and claimed Pittenger was part of the "Washington swamp".[15]

Primary results[edit]

Republican primary results[16]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mark Harris 17,302 48.5
Republican Robert Pittenger (incumbent) 16,474 46.2
Republican Clarence Goins 1,867 5.2
Total votes 35,643 100.0

General election[edit]

Through September 30, McCready reported raising $4.3 million while Harris had raised $1.6 million. President Donald Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence traveled to the district to campaign for Harris, while Representative John Lewis campaigned for McCready.[4]

Harris and McCready debated on October 10 on WBTV in Charlotte[17] and October 17 at Spirit Square.[18]

Endorsements[edit]

Harris was endorsed by Donald Trump, President of the United States[19] and Libertarian Jeff Scott was endorsed by Christian Cano, 2016 Democratic primary candidate for North Carolina's 9th congressional district.[20]

Polling[edit]

Poll source Date(s)
administered
Sample
size
Margin
of error
Mark
Harris (R)
Dan
McCready (D)
Jeff
Scott (L)
Undecided
NYT Upshot/Siena College October 26–30, 2018 505 ± 5.0% 45% 44% 3% 7%
NYT Upshot/Siena College October 1–5, 2018 502 ± 4.9% 47% 42% 11%
SurveyUSA October 2–4, 2018 556 ± 4.7% 41% 45% 3% 12%
SurveyUSA July 5–8, 2018 600 ± 4.6% 36% 43% 3% 19%
ALG Research (D-McCready) March 8–13, 2018 500 ± 4.4% 43% 44% 13%

Results[edit]

North Carolina's 9th congressional district, 2018[21]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mark Harris 139,246 49.25
Democratic Dan McCready 138,341 48.93
Libertarian Jeff Scott 5,130 1.81
Total votes 282,717 100.0

When all precincts had reported their unofficial counts on Election Day, the race remained too close to call.[22] The next night, trailing by about 2,000 votes, McCready conceded defeat to Harris.[23] After all the votes were tallied, Harris had a 905 vote lead over McCready, making the election the closest race in the district in over six decades.

Refusal of certification[edit]

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted 9–0 on November 27 not to certify the election results.[24] On November 30, the board voted 7–2 to hold a public hearing on December 27 regarding the tampering allegations.[25] In early December, the North Carolina Democratic Party filed affidavits with the State Board of Elections claiming that Harris had used independent contractors to collect absentee ballots from voters.[26][27]

The board opened an investigation around Dowless, a campaign operative with felony fraud and perjury convictions, who was hired by the Harris campaign. Dowless was suspected of electoral fraud in 2014, allegedly mishandling absentee ballots. Dowless had worked for Jim McVicker's campaign for Sheriff. McVicker won that race by a narrow margin and did not respond to inquiries about it in 2018.[28] Dowless worked for McVicker again in the 2018 Republican primary and the general election for Sheriff.[29]

In the 2018 general election, Dowless has been accused of paying workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters, after Harris had directed the hiring of Dowless for his campaign, despite the allegations concerning his efforts in prior campaigns.[30] There had been warnings about and concerns raised in 2016 that Dowless used questionable tactics to deliver votes for Todd Johnson in his 2016 Republican congressional primary against Pittinger and Harris.[31] Earlier, Dowless had worked for a Democrat competing in a 2012 state House primary, and ran as a Democrat himself, in a losing race for school board, in 2014. No questions had been raised in those races.[32]

In Robeson County, the easternmost county in the 9th district, twice as many absentee ballots from African American voters were not returned compared to white voters. In neighboring Bladen County, the return rates were the same for the two groups.[33] As of December 2018, the outcome of the election had not been certified, as state election officials continued to investigate alleged fraud.[34][35] Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said it was possible over 1,000 ballots had been destroyed.[36]

On November 30, the Associated Press retracted its call of the race.[37] McCready withdrew his concession on December 6, and NBC News withdrew its call of the race.[38] McCready prepared to run in a special election.[39] In December 2018, the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill into law that would require new primary elections if a new election were called, overriding a veto by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.[40]

Election board hearings[edit]

Prior to the election, in October 2018, a state court had ruled that North Carolina's nine-member State Board of Elections was unconstitutional due to changes made by the state legislature in 2017. The court allowed the election board to continue operating during the election and subsequent fraud investigation. On December 28, in an unexpected decision, the court dissolved the election board, before it had certified election results, accusing the board of ignoring court instructions. This left the state without certified election results and without an elections board until January 31, 2019, when a new, five-member board was to be seated under a new law taking effect.[41][42]

The court's dissolution of the election board prompted responses from all quarters. Republican candidate Harris filed an emergency petition requesting that the board certify the results with him as the winner, but only two of nine board members requested an emergency session, and no action was taken before the board dissolved. Democratic candidate McCready publicly called for the fraud investigation to continue. Cooper attempted to name an interim elections board to serve until January 31, but was overridden by the state's Republican-controlled legislature.[41] Meanwhile, incoming United States House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, announced that the House of Representatives will not seat Harris under any circumstances until the fraud investigation is completed.[43][44]

On January 2, 2019, the staff of the dissolved election board announced that they would continue the investigation, but delayed a January 11 hearing until a new election board is seated on January 31.[45][46] The same day, Harris announced he would seek court intervention to have him immediately certified as the winner with the goal of being seated in the 116th Congress on January 3.[47][48] On January 3, the 116th Congress was sworn in with North Carolina's 9th Congressional seat vacant.[49][50] On the same day, Harris was interviewed by investigators from the North Carolina Board of Elections.[51]

In early January, by refusing to provide the names of Republican candidates for the state elections board, as requested by Cooper, and urging Republicans not to accept seats on the board, North Carolina Republicans blocked the board's intent and ability to hold a scheduled hearing on January 11, 2019, meant for the purposes of investigating the possibility of fraud in the November 9 District election, leaving the District seat in Congress vacant. Republican party officials refused to send Cooper the names of their party's candidates to fill vacancies on the board. Responding to their obstructionism, Cooper said, "All North Carolinians deserve to have confidence in a system of voting that ensures honest and fair elections." "If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it — regardless of whether the candidate who finished ahead in a tainted election is a Republican or a Democrat."[52] On January 22, 2019, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway refused Harris' request to order him seated.[53] On January 31, the new board, composed of three Democratic and two Republican members, voted to schedule a February hearing on the allegations of election irregularities.[54]

On February 4, the new board set the hearing for February 18.[1] On February 18, 2019, the regulator reported that it had found evidence of "a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" that may have involved more than 1,000 ballots or ballot request forms.[55] That day, Lisa Britt, the daughter of Dowless's ex-wife, admitted to tampering with ballots on the direction of Dowless – including filling in blank votes to favor Republican candidates and falsifying witness signatures.[56] On February 20, Harris's son, John Harris, a federal prosecutor in North Carolina, testified to the election board that he had repeatedly warned his father not to hire Dowless because Dowless appeared to have previously engaged in illegal tactics to win votes. John Harris also testified that he had expressed similar concerns to his father's chief campaign strategist, Andy Yates.[57][58] Email records were shown of his discussion of the issue with his father.[12] His father had maintained that he had not been warned of problems with Dowless's reputation and had testified to that effect.[12]

On February 21, Harris admitted that he had made inaccurate statements in his testimony, blaming a recent sepsis infection that had affected his memory and caused him to have two strokes.[12] He further stated that he had concluded that "public confidence in the 9th District has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."[12][2] The board unanimously voted to set a new election, with the date to be determined in a later hearing.[12][2] The board also called for new elections for two local county offices in Bladen County.[12]

Aftermath[edit]

Freeman announced that she would call upon a grand jury to investigate the fraud allegations to determine whether or not to file criminal charges.[59] On February 26, Harris, citing ill health, declared that he would not compete in the new congressional election.[60]

Dowless was indicted on felony charges on February 27, consisting of three counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and two counts of possession of absentee ballots. Four others were also charged in relation to the absentee ballot collection.[61] In March 2019, the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice began to issue subpoenas for a grand jury investigation related to the case.[62]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b New NC elections board sets date for 9th District hearing, WRAL, February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Caldwell, Leigh Ann. "New election ordered in North Carolina House district after possible illegal activities". NBC News. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Drew Brooks (May 2, 2018). "Crowded field vies for 9th Congressional District seat". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  4. ^ a b John Henderson, Staff Writer (October 20, 2018). "All eyes on Nov. 6 will be on District 9: Harris vs. McCready". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  5. ^ Weigel, David (May 8, 2018). "North Carolina GOP congressman loses primary, first House incumbent ousted". Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  6. ^ Bradner, Eric (December 5, 2018). "Man at center of North Carolina election fraud probe turned in hundreds of absentee ballot requests – CNNPolitics". CNN.com. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  7. ^ "Democratic challenger's big bank account might mean a tough House race for Pittenger". charlotteobserver. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  8. ^ "In Pittenger-McCready race, who would dish out the stress?". charlotteobserver. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  9. ^ By $${element.Contributor} (November 15, 2017). "DCCC Names First 11 Candidates in 'Red to Blue' Program". Rollcall.com. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  10. ^ "US House of Representatives District 09 – Dem (Vote for 1)". NC State Board of Elections. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  11. ^ Woolverton, Paul. "Eastover banker files for 9th Congressional District". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Gardner, Amy (February 21, 2019). "North Carolina orders new election in contested U.S. House race after GOP candidate admitted misspeaking under oath". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 22, 2019 – via Chicago Tribune.
  13. ^ "GOP rival says Pittenger is among the 'most liberal' Republicans in Congress. False". The News & Observer. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  14. ^ "First Baptist's Mark Harris to step aside as he considers another bid for Congress". Charlotte Observer. June 11, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  15. ^ Lowry, Rich (May 8, 2018). "North Carolina Rep. Pittenger loses primary". Politico. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  16. ^ "US House of Representatives District 09 Rep (Vote for 1)". NC State Board of Elections. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  17. ^ "US House District 9 debate: Dan McCready, Mark Harris". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  18. ^ "US House District 9 debate: Dan McCready, Mark Harris". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  19. ^ Ely Portillo; Jim Morrill; Tim Funk (October 26, 2018). "Trump urges votes for GOP candidates in Charlotte rally: 'Let's not take a chance'". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  20. ^ June 16, Brian Irving 873 60pc on; 2018. "Former Democratic Candidate Endorses Jeff Scott for Congress". Libertarian Party of North Carolina. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  21. ^ "District 9, North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement". North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  22. ^ Press, Associated (December 15, 2018). "Harris, McCready race too close to call". WPDE. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  23. ^ WBTV Web Staff (November 6, 2018). "Dan McCready concedes NC District 9 race to Mark Harris". Wbtv.com. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  24. ^ Morrill, Jim (November 27, 2018). "NC elections board refuses to certify 9th District race, leaving it in limbo". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  25. ^ "NC officials vote to hold hearing over alleged fraud in U.S. House race". TheHill. November 30, 2018. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  26. ^ Wise, Justin (December 3, 2018). "Second woman says she was paid to collect absentee ballots in North Carolina House race". The Hill. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  27. ^ Levy, Adam (December 3, 2018). "North Carolina elections board delays certification of congressional election results again". CNN. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  28. ^ Man at center of North Carolina election fraud probe turned in hundreds of absentee ballot requests, CNN, Eric Bradner, Adam Levy, Drew Griffin and Curt Devine, December 5, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  29. ^ Meet the four candidates for Bladen County sheriff, WECT, August 14, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  30. ^ Bruno, Joe (December 5, 2018). "Who is McCrae Dowless, man who appears to be center of 9th District investigation?". WSOC-TV. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  31. ^ "N.C. congressional candidate sought out aide, despite warnings over tactics". Washington Post. December 13, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  32. ^ guru of Bladen County’ is at the center of NC’s election troubles, The News & Observer, Dan Kane Ely Portillo, January 21, 2019. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  33. ^ Murphy, Brian (December 3, 2018). "At center of voter fraud scandal, a convicted felon and 'grassroots' campaigner". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  34. ^ Morrill, Jim (November 29, 2018). "'Tangled web' in Bladen County has questions swirling about votes in the 9th District". The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte, North Carolina. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  35. ^ Gardner, Amy; Ross, Kirk (November 29, 2018). "Certification in limbo in N.C. House race as fraud investigation continues". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  36. ^ Casiano, Louis (December 6, 2018). "Over 1,000 ballots may have been destroyed in NC congressional race, DA says". Fox News. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  37. ^ "AP retracts call in North Carolina congressional race amid fraud investigation". TheHill. November 30, 2018. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  38. ^ "North Carolina Democrat withdraws concession in House race amid allegations of vote fraud". Nbcnews.com. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  39. ^ Lowry, Rich (December 10, 2018). "North Carolina Democrat preparing for special election in contested congressional race". Politico. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  40. ^ "North Carolina lawmakers override veto of elections bill". TheHill. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  41. ^ a b Henderson, Bruce; Jarvis, Craig; Brosseau, Carli (December 28, 2018). "9th District chaos: Cooper plans interim elections board, Harris asks to be named winner". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  42. ^ Nobles, Ryan; Krieg, Gregory; Stracqualursi, Veronica; Cohen, Ethan (December 28, 2018). "North Carolina elections board dissolves before certifying November results of 9th district race". CNN. Archived from the original on January 3, 2019. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  43. ^ "House leader says Democrats won't seat candidate in unresolved North Carolina race". NBC News. Associated Press. December 28, 2018. Archived from the original on January 3, 2019. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  44. ^ Lillis, Mike (December 4, 2018). "Hoyer: Dems won't seat Harris until North Carolina fraud allegations are resolved". The Hill. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  45. ^ Dalesio, Emery P. (January 2, 2019). "Hearing into North Carolina ballot fraud claims postponed". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  46. ^ "Hearing On 9th District Investigation Delayed". WFAE. January 2, 2019. Archived from the original on January 3, 2019. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  47. ^ Gardner, Amy (January 2, 2019). "GOP congressional candidate says he will ask N.C. court to certify his victory as election officials delay fraud hearing". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  48. ^ Morrill, Jim; Murphy, Brian (January 2, 2019). "Mark Harris says he'll go to court as officials delay hearing on election fraud". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  49. ^ "Congressional Profile". Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  50. ^ Cooper ditches call for interim elections board; Harris campaign to sue for certification, Carolina Journal, Dan Way, January 3, 2019. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  51. ^ Latos, Allison (January 3, 2019). "DISTRICT 9 INVESTIGATION: Harris meets with Board of Elections, calls not being in DC 'disappointing'". WSOC. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  52. ^ Election fraud hearing postponed; Cooper will not appoint new board, calls lack of GOP support 'obstruction', WECT, Emily Featherston, January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  53. ^ Will Doran (January 22, 2019). ""Judge denies Mark Harris request to certify his win despite election fraud investigation"". News & Observer. Raleigh, North Carolina.
  54. ^ Elections board may finish 9th District investigation in a few weeks, new chairman says, Charlotte Observer, Jim Morrill, January 31, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  55. ^ Blinder, Alan (February 18, 2019). "In North Carolina, Investigators Find Ballot 'Scheme' in House Race". The New York Times. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  56. ^ "Key witness testifies to tampering with absentee ballots in N.C, House race". NBC News. February 18, 2019. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  57. ^ "Candidate's son warned father of N.C. political operative's alleged tactics". Washington Post. February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  58. ^ "Republican candidate's son shakes up North Carolina hearing with surprise testimony". NBC News. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  59. ^ "Criminal charges in alleged ballot scheme could come soon | Raleigh News & Observer". The News & Observer. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  60. ^ Burns, Matthew; Leslie, Laura (February 26, 2019). "Mark Harris not running in new 9th District election". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  61. ^ Portillo, Ely; Morrill, Jim (February 27, 2019). "Bladen County operative at center of NC election fraud investigation indicted, arrested". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  62. ^ http://www.wbtv.com/2019/03/12/federal-investigators-issue-subpoenas-nc-investigation/