FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, file photo, Mark Harris, Republican candidate in North Carolina's 9th Congressional race, prepares to testify during the fourth day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh, N.C. Harris, whose narrow lead in the North Carolina congressional race was thrown out because of suspicions of ballot fraud, announced Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, he will not run in the newly ordered do-over election, saying he needs surgery in late March. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool, File)

GOP candidate calls for new congressional election

February 21, 2019 - 3:22 pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Republican candidate in the nation's last undecided congressional race abruptly dropped his bid to be declared the winner and instead called for a new election Thursday, after investigators found evidence of ballot fraud by political operatives working for him.

Mark Harris informed the state elections board of his decision on the fourth day of a hearing on whether to certify the results of the November contest.

Harris left the hearing room without answering questions. It was not immediately clear whether he intends to run in a new election.

Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of about 280,000 cast last fall in a mostly rural district along the southern edge of the state. But the state refused to certify the election as allegations surfaced that Harris political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless may have tampered with mail-in ballots.

Harris said he was still struggling from health problems caused by a blood infection that landed him in a hospital and led to two strokes since the election. He said that he was suffering from confusion but that he could see there were substantial doubts about the election's fairness and that a new election is necessary.

He made the surprising reversal after his lawyers argued in recent legal filings to the board that he should be certified the winner.

North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said he learned of Harris' decision only minutes before.

"There's no way that anybody has contemplated what's next," Woodhouse said.

North Carolina's elections director said this week that Dowless conducted an illegal "ballot-harvesting" operation while working for Harris.

Dowless' workers in rural Bladen County testified they were directed to forge signatures, collect blank or incomplete ballots from voters, and even fill in votes for local candidates. It is against the law for anyone to handle someone's ballot but the voter or a family member.

Earlier Thursday, Harris testified that Dowless had assured him that he wouldn't collect absentee ballots in violation of state law.

"I'll never forget. He said it again and again. He said, 'We do not take the ballot,'" Harris testified.

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