Mark Harris’ fight for his hotly contested U.S. House seat may have just been undone by his own son.
On Wednesday afternoon, John Harris was called to testify before the North Carolina state elections board for what was the third day of hearings into the claims of election fraud coming from the Ninth Congressional District. The younger Harris, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, told the board that he informed his parents as early as 2016 that his father’s campaign may have been engaged with a group using unsavory and illegal electoral practices. Mark Harris did not respond to Splinter’s request for comment.
After beating sitting U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger in last year’s May primary, Harris, a Republican and a controversial pastor, appeared to narrowly defeat Democrat Dan McCready in the November general election when all of the ballots were tallied. That was before the validity of the election victory slowly unraveled, and local reporters revealed that political consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless and the firm he contracted for, Red Dome Group, almost certainly committed widespread election fraud by collecting absentee ballots en masse and stuffing the box. The testimony and emails provided by John on Wednesday contradict Mark’s prior claims of total ignorance, and confirm a December report from the Washington Post alleging that Mark was alerted to Dowless’ tactics as early as 2016.
In John’s testimony on Wednesday, a number of private emails and referenced phone calls with John’s parents served as proof that Mark was at least alerted to the possibility that the Red Dome Group may have been heading up an illegal operation.
One of the first red flags raised came in 2016, when Mark sent an email to John that joked about Dowless complaining about alleged election fraud being committed by the Democratic Party—Mark wrote, “Guess he didn’t like the Dems cutting into his business!” Later that year, following Mark’s narrow loss to Pittenger in the 2016 primary, John sent his dad an email breaking down the abnormalities in the absentee ballots and telling him to have his lawyer check out the odd activities occurring in Bladen County.
In June 2017, John told his father’s campaign consultant, Andy Yates: “I’ve heard about this McCrae (Dowless) guy, seems to me he might be kind of a shady character.” In Yates’ testimony, taken prior to John’s, he claimed not to recall any conversation of that nature.
And in early April 2018, John sent his father an email that walked his father through the shady aspects of Dowless’ ballot-collection approach and which concluded with the following sentences, heavily implying that John believed the batch collections signaled illegal activity:
The key thing that I am fairly certain they do that is illegal is that they collect the completed absentee ballots and mail them all at once. The way they pop up in batches at the board of elections makes me believe that.
In a follow-up email, John went as far as to send the text of the state law outlining the illegal nature of collecting and mailing absentee ballots in large batches.
The reason this is all notable is because Harris, to this point, has adamantly denied any prior knowledge of the illegal aspects of Dowless’ operation.
As shown during Wednesday’s hearing, Mark actively attempted to downplay his son’s concerns via email. Harris even went as far as to claim that it was possible Dowless and his crew were taking extra time to walk with every single voter to the mailbox, which, yes, is entirely as desperate as it sounds.
Following a ten minute break, John returned to testify that his father and Dowless spoke regularly; he added that after John raised the issue of the Red Dome Group’s methods, Mark never mentioned him again in their talks. John told lawyers that he believed Dowless was lying to his parents and that he wrongly assumed his father’s campaign was closely monitoring Red Dome Group’s actions. As the 2018 election passed and the results were heavily scrutinized, John said that he slowly whittled down contact with his parents for legal purposes. According to John, he didn’t alert them that he would be appearing at the hearing on Wednesday.
Testifying against your parents—even when it’s becoming clearer and clearer that they maybe, probably at least knew about sloppily committed election fraud—has got to be tough as hell. But given the receipts, it’s hard to deny that John did just about everything in his power to help Mark out. Maybe next time his dad will listen to reason and...not employ someone committing blatant election fraud.
The state board’s hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow, depending on the length of Mark’s testimony. Following that, the state board, comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans, will vote on whether to certify the election, call for a new election, or deadlock. Four votes are required to order a new election, while just three are needed to certify the election.