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Mark Harris’ son warned him about Dowless illegally collecting ballots in North Carolina race

Testimony by John Harris contradicts earlier interviews his father gave about GOP operative

GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris speaks as President Donald Trump and Republican Rep. Ted Budd listen during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., in October. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images file photo)
GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris speaks as President Donald Trump and Republican Rep. Ted Budd listen during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., in October. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images file photo)

In remarkable testimony Wednesday afternoon, the son of North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said he warned his father about Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. illegally collecting ballots before Harris hired him. 

John Harris, the son of the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 9th District, told his father that collecting ballots was illegal and offered to send his father the statute proving that. 

His testimony came on the third day of evidentiary hearings held by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which has been investigating election fraud in the 9th District last year. Harris held a 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready after the November election, but the board refused to certify the results in the face of absentee voting irregularities. The board on Monday announced it had found “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operation,” including efforts of a cover-up.

John Harris, an attorney who is representing himself before the board, testified Wednesday that he was first tipped off to the illegal ballot collection when looking at absentee ballot returns from 2016, when Dowless was working for another candidate. He was worried about Dowless doing the same thing in 2018 if his father hired him. 

John Harris said his father and mother hired Dowless anyway because they believed him. 

“I think they were lied to, and they believed the person that lied to them,” John Harris said. 

Wednesday’s testimony from John Harris would seem to contradict earlier interviews in which Mark Harris said he never heard any red flags about Dowless before hiring him.

The son’s testimony followed a lengthy appearance from Harris consultant Andy Yates over Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. Yates works for Red Dome Group, the consulting firm that hired Dowless.

Yates testified he knew nothing about the illegal operation Dowless conducted. He told Democratic lawyer Marc Elias on Wednesday that he conducted a simple Google search on Dowless in which he misspelled his name, but didn’t conduct a background check and didn’t come across any stories about him illegally collecting ballots in previous elections.

Workers for Dowless on Monday testified to having collected absentee ballot request forms and ballots and even filling in ballots for Republicans in down-ballot races last year. Lisa Britt, Dowless’ former stepdaughter, said the operative paid her about $150 for 50 ballot request forms.

She said she never doubted the legality of what she was doing, in part, because she trusted Dowless, who was married and is now divorced from her mother.

“I didn’t think my father would send me to do something illegal,” Britt said.

Britt also testified that Dowless told her and other workers to say that he never told them to collect ballots. He provided them with a statement last week to shape their testimony.

One unheard voice in all of these proceedings so far has been Dowless himself. He refused to testify Monday because the board wouldn’t grand him immunity. The board said it could draw “negative inferences” from his refusal to take the stand.

The board already announced at the outset of the hearings Monday that it found evidence of an illegal operation — in which ballots were voted fraudulently in Dowless’ home and office — including efforts to obstruct the investigation. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

The election board, made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, will either decide on a winner or call for a new election at the end of the hearings. Four of the five members would need to agree on a new election.

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