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Republican Mark Harris, who was at center of 2018 election scandal, is running for Congress again

In a campaign video, Mark Harris said the 2018 election was stolen from him.
Mark Harris campaign
Video still
In a campaign video, Mark Harris said the 2018 election was stolen from him.

Charlotte-area pastor Mark Harris, who was at the center of an absentee mail ballot scandal five years ago that resulted in a rare election do-over, said Tuesday he’s going to run for Congress next year in the 8th Congressional District.

Harris, a Republican, ran for Congress in 2018. But his apparent victory over Democrat Dan McCready was overturned because of election fraud.

After the votes were initially tallied, Harris appeared bound for Congress. He even went to Washington, D.C., for freshmen orientation.

But the state Board of Elections refused to certify the result because of allegations of fraud from Bladen and Robeson counties, at the far end of what was then the 9th Congressional District. After a lengthy investigation, the elections board voted to hold a new election for the 9th District. Harris endorsed that call at the time, though he denied knowing about illegal activity by anyone associated with his campaign.

"I believe a new election should be called. It’s become clear to me that’s the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted," Harris said at the time.

During the North Carolina Board of Elections investigation into fraud in the 9th Congressional District race, Executive Director Kim Strach and lead…

Harris decided not to run in the new election — he said he had two strokes and was hospitalized — and Republican Dan Bishop won that race. Now that Bishop is running for North Carolina attorney general, there’s an open seat in the 8th District.

The mastermind of the scheme to illegally collect completed and uncompleted mail ballots was political operative McCrae Dowless. Witnesses told state election officials that Dowless gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from Bladen County voters with the help of his assistants. Dowless’ workers testified at a state board hearing that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.

Harris hired Dowless even though Harris’ son, John Harris, had warned his father not to.

Dowless died last year.

In announcing his campaign Tuesday, Harris noted that the Wake County district attorney declined to prosecute him for the scandal. And in a twist, Harris now says that Democrats stole the election from him.

“You see, I’m one of the few people who truly understands the extremes Democrats will go to in order to win,” Harris said. “And how some Republicans who are around when you are on top will disappear when things get tough.”

The 8th District today stretches from Union County north to Davidson County. It stretches to the east to Montgomery and Richmond counties.

The General Assembly will draw a new Congressional map this fall, but the district is expected to remain a safe Republican seat.

Harris was previously president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention and chief pastor at First Baptist Church in uptown Charlotte. Now the pastor at a Baptist church in Mooresville, north of Charlotte, Harris also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and for Congress in 2016.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.