Mark Harris (North Carolina politician)
|Born||April 24, 1966|
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.
|Education||Appalachian State University (BA)|
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, DMin)
Mark Harris (born April 24, 1966) is an American pastor and politician from North Carolina. He ran as a Republican to represent North Carolina's 9th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives in the 2016 and 2018 elections.
In the general election against Democratic opponent Dan McCready, initial tallies showed him winning. But the election panel did not certify these results after investigating reports arose of alleged ballot fraud involving McCrae Dowless, a Republican political operative employed by the Harris campaign. In February 2019, the bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections dismissed the results of the election and called for a new election to be held. Harris declined to continue his candidacy.
Harris was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on April 24, 1966. He attended local schools there before earning his bachelor's degree in political science from Appalachian State University. He earned both a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Harris ran for the United States Senate in the 2014 election, finishing in third place in the Republican primary behind Thom Tillis and Greg Brannon. He later ran against incumbent congressman Robert Pittenger for the U.S. House in 2016. The election was close; after a recount, Pittenger was certified the winner by 134 votes.
In January 2019, Harris was reported to have falsely set off a fire alarm, allegedly to avoid news media. Harris explained his actions by stating that he was rushing to catch a sports game. Falsely setting off a fire alarm is a class 2 misdemeanor under North Carolina law.
2018 congressional campaign
Harris resigned from the First Baptist Church in 2017 and ran again for the U.S. House in 2018. This time, Harris defeated Pittenger in the Republican primary (which featured a higher turnout than the 2016 primary).
Election fraud allegations
Following the November 6, 2018, midterm elections in North Carolina's 9th congressional district, initial tallies put Harris 905 votes ahead of his Democratic competitor, Dan McCready. McCready conceded on the day after the election, but the state Democratic Party filed affidavits with the state's board of voters claiming that Harris had used independent contractors to collect unsealed absentee ballots from voters and alter them before submitting them to the post office. The North Carolina Board of Elections voted 9-0 on November 27 not to certify the election.
The Board of Elections subsequently opened an investigation which centered around the activities of Leslie McCrae Dowless, who had felony convictions for perjury and fraud. Dowless had been employed by numerous campaigns of Republican candidates to orchestrate "get out the vote" efforts. The accusation is that Dowless, who was hired by the Harris campaign, paid workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters. According to The Washington Post, Harris directed the hiring of Dowless for his campaign even though Harris received personal warnings in 2016 that Dowless had almost certainly used questionable tactics to deliver absentee votes in rural Bladen county for Todd Johnson, another losing candidate in the District's Republican congressional 2016 primary.
While the allegations of irregularities were being investigated, Harris sought to have himself certified as the winner of the election. In January 2019, Harris filed a petition to have a court certify him as the winner of the election; Harris's petition was rejected that same month. That same month, Harris said "no evidence has been supplied that suggests the outcome of the race is in question"; The News & Observer disputed Harris's assertion, "It's extremely unlikely Harris knows the extent of evidence that has been submitted to the NC elections board." On February 9, 2019, Harris said "Democrats and liberal media have spared no expense disparaging my good name" and blamed "a liberal activist" on the Board of Elections for controversy surrounding the election. He described the alleged ballot-harvesting scheme as "unsubstantiated slandering." During the investigation, the North Carolina Republican Party declared "Mark Harris won the election" and called on the state elections board to certify Harris as the winner of the election, as well as defended Harris, describing him as an "innocent victim".
The outcome of the election was uncertified while state election officials investigated the alleged fraud. In early January, Republican party officials refused to send Democratic Governor Roy Cooper the names of their party's candidates to fill vacancies on the board. Responding to their actions, Cooper said, "If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it — regardless of whether the candidate who finished ahead in a tainted election is a Republican or a Democrat."
The North Carolina State Board of Elections held hearings February 18–21, 2019, in an effort to resolve the disputed election results. During those hearings, election officials complained that the Harris campaign had withheld incriminating documents. Lisa Britt, the daughter of Dowless's ex-wife, testified that under Dowless's direction, not only had absentee ballots been unlawfully collected from voters, but that in some cases Dowless's associates had filled in blank ballot votes to favor Republican candidates and had falsified witness signatures. Bladen County, where Dowless had operated, had been the only county in which Harris had prevailed over McCready in the absentee ballot results. Harris's son, who is a federal prosecutor, told the board that he had repeatedly warned his father about Dowless and that Dowless might be involved in illegal activities. Harris told the board that Dowless had assured him that his operation was legal.
The New York Times wrote that Harris "appeared to mislead" the board with some of his testimony. Harris later acknowledged that some of his testimony had been inaccurate, blaming his health problems as an explanation for his erroneous testimony. He then said that "It's become clear to me the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted." Harris's attorney David Freedman also said "we agree that the actions that occurred in Bladen County likely affected the election."
On February 21, the Board of Elections unanimously ordered a new election in the congressional race, and also ordered new elections in two other contests for local offices. The North Carolina Republican Party, which up until that point had been supporting Harris's prior demand to be certified as the winner of the election, also endorsed the call for the new election.
On February 26, 2019, citing ill health, Harris declared that he would not compete in the new election.
In 2014, Harris supported reforming Social Security, including reducing the future Social Security payments for those who were currently less than 50 years old.
Harris has described Islam as "dangerous" and the work of Satan. In 2014, he claimed that Islam was taking over the world, including the United States.
In 2011, Harris said in a sermon at First Baptist Charlotte that there would never be peace between Jews and Muslims unless they convert to Christianity.
During the 2018 campaign, American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC that conducts opposition research, brought attention to a 2013 sermon that Harris had given where he questioned whether it was the "healthiest pursuit" for women to prioritize their careers and independence over their biblical "core calling".
Harris led supporters of North Carolina Amendment 1, which banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina in 2012. The amendment was found to be unconstitutional by a federal court in 2014, and prohibitions on same-sex marriage were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015. After the Supreme Court ruling, Harris said, "one of the most devastating blows to the American way of life has been the breakdown of the family unit. A marriage consists of one man and one woman. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, decided otherwise."
Harris campaigned for the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (commonly known as the "bathroom bill") in North Carolina in 2016, which stated that in government buildings, individuals (such as students at state-operated schools) may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex identified on their birth certificate. The bill sparked a widespread backlash and boycott, including by major U.S. firms. Amid the backlash, Harris adamantly argued against repealing the bill. The bill was eventually repealed and replaced with House Bill 142 on March 30, 2017.
Harris and his wife Beth have three children and six grandchildren.
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