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Do-over election in N.C. congressional district requires new primaries

A new election has been ordered in a North Carolina congressional race still contested after more than three months. The decision follows four days of hearings on alleged voting fraud by an operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris. Numerous witnesses testified that McCrae Dowless illegally collected absentee ballots. Judy Woodruff talks to NPR's Miles Parks about what happens next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the North Carolina Elections Board will set a new election date for the state's Ninth Congressional District after charges of fraud in the vote.

    For more, I'm joined again by Miles Parks of NPR. He's in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Miles Parks, hello again.

    So, tell us what happened today that led to the elections board making this decision.

  • Miles Parks:

    So, it was a pretty incredible day overall. And that's saying something, considering every single day of this hearing since Monday has been — has had at least one or two incredible moments.

    Today was the day we were supposed to hear from Mark Harris, who took the stand early in the morning and testified all morning about what he knew about this absentee ballot fraud that investigators have been laying out over the past few days.

    It centered on a political operative named McCrae Dowless, who Harris had actually hired himself to work on upping the absentee ballot totals in the eastern part of the district. More and more evidence has come out that suggests that Dowless was using tactics that are illegal in North Carolina, collecting ballots.

    One woman even testified that she filled in some ballots for voters who let them blank when they turned in their ballots to her. So it was getting more and more clear that the election results were tainted. And then today we actually had a bipartisan vote, a 5-0 unanimous vote, from the state board of elections, to hold a brand-new election and throw out the results from November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as we reported earlier, Harris today, who was the Republican — had been the Republican winner, is now calling for a new election. But up until now, he has denied any wrongdoing. Isn't that right?

  • Miles Parks:

    He has.

    And he still didn't say anything today that indicated he knew about the illegal behavior by Dowless and people Dowless was paying. But it became very clear that his argument over the past few months that he wasn't warned about Dowless' tactics wasn't going to hold water anymore.

    Yesterday, we heard testimony from Harris' son, John Harris, who's an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina. He testified that he warned his father that he had done data analysis on the 2016 election. He had looked into the candidate who had been paying Dowless. And he had a hunch that Dowless was a — quote — "shady character" who was engaged in illegal activity. His own son warned him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, so Harris' contention, is this right, Miles Parks, is that he knew nothing about what was going on, even though he'd been warned by his son?

  • Miles Parks:

    Right.

    He's arguing that he didn't know anything about the illegal behavior. His son was telling him that he thought illegal behavior could be happening, based on some publicly available data. He was looking — he was looking at basically how ballots were being turned in to the local elections board. They were coming in, in batches, as John Harris said.

    So he suspected something. But McCrae Dowless, the political operative who was guaranteeing these absentee ballots for Mark Harris, said: No, we never touched the ballots. I know that's illegal. I would never do that.

    And Harris says he took the word of the political operative, over the warnings of his son.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, we don't know the date of this reelection. We assume it'll be held within the next several months.

    Any sense of whether voters are going to start from scratch there or which side has an advantage going in?

  • Miles Parks:

    The biggest thing right now is actually looking at the primaries. North Carolina passed a law a few months ago that said, if you hold a new general election for a statewide race, you have to hold a new primary as well.

    So, at this point, what we're really curious about is, is Mark Harris going to run again? He hasn't said one way or the other yet, obviously because the election was just called recently.

    But then the question is, even if he does run again, will he get the support of Republicans in North Carolina, with all of this baggage from this weeklong hearing? Will he be able to gather that statewide support to even run again against Democrat Dan McCready?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Big development today in North Carolina, calling, as you say, for a brand-new election.

    Miles Parks of NPR, thank you.

  • Miles Parks:

    Thank you.

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