North Carolina voter fraud probe could prompt new primary, general elections

With fraud allegations still plaguing an uncertified North Carolina congressional election, voters could head back to the polls for a brand new election – primary and all.

North Carolina’s state legislature voted Wednesday to require both new primary and general elections should the state elections board decide to call for a redo. Accusations of voter fraud and ballot irregularities have bedeviled the 9th Congressional District election.

Republican Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast in the district, which the GOP has held since 1963. But issues with absentee ballots have prevented Harris from being certified the winner as the state elections board continues to investigate allegations of “irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities.”

The probe has chiefly focused on absentee ballots, particularly in Bladen County – the only county among the eight in the district where Harris won a majority of mail-in ballots over McCready. A Bladen County man, McCrae Dowless, has been identified by the board as a “person of interest” related to an alleged absentee ballot operation.

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Dowless, who worked for the Harris campaign as a chief strategist, has been accused of holding onto more than 800 absentee ballots ahead of the May primary elections, according to an affidavit.

Kenneth Simmons, a Republican, said in the affidavit that he spoke with Dowless during a GOP meeting. During that time, Dowless admitted he had more than 800 ballots with him, Simmons said, according to The News & Observer.

Dowless allegedly said he wouldn’t turn in the ballots “until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up.” But Simmons said he was concerned the ballots would never be submitted at all.

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Republican state Rep. David Lewis was instrumental in pushing through the legislation requiring a new primary and general election should the state elections board decide to call for a redo. He said he pushed for the bill because it appeared there were issues with absentee ballots during the primary elections as well.

Harris, 52, beat incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the May primary.

The state elections board has said an evidentiary hearing will occur on or before Dec. 21, after which it could call for a new election.

Harris, a Baptist minister, has maintained he was “absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing” but is open to a new election if there is proof any ballot irregularities could have influenced the outcome of the race.

McCready had initially conceded the election but retracted it earlier this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.