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Judge Weighs GOP Claim in NC Race      01/22 05:58

   RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina judge was scheduled to hear arguments 
Tuesday into declaring the Republican in the country's last undecided 
congressional race the winner despite an investigation into whether his lead 
was boosted by illegal vote-collection tactics.

   A trial judge in the state capital was expected to hear lawyers for 
candidate Mark Harris argue that the now-disbanded elections board was supposed 
to have declared him the winner in November, delayed acting to sort out 
ballot-fraud allegations, and now can't certify him as the winner. Because GOP 
reshuffling of the old elections board's membership had been declared 
unconstitutional, its investigation into alleged ballot fraud by an operative 
hired by the Republican's campaign was invalid, Harris' attorneys claimed.

   The elections board was dissolved Dec. 28 by state judges who in October 
declared its makeup unconstitutional but had allowed investigations to 
continue. A revamped board comes into existence starting Jan. 31.

   Harris narrowly led Democrat Dan McCready in the 9th District race before 
the investigation started.

   Lawyers for McCready and the state elections board want the lawsuit 
dismissed. They say a completed investigation is needed into allegations that 
mail-in ballots could have been altered or discarded by a Harris subcontractor.

   Democrats who this month took control of the U.S. House said they wouldn't 
seat Harris without an investigation into the allegations, and suggested they 
may examine the dispute no matter what the state elections board does.

   State attorneys argued the judge shouldn't side with Harris because he's 
unlikely to be seated in Congress until after the restored elections board 
examines collected evidence at a planned hearing and acts.

   The questions surround a political operative in rural Bladen County, Leslie 
McCrae Dowless, who worked for Harris' campaign at the candidate's insistence. 
Dowless has declined interviews. A statement by his attorney said he is 
innocent of any wrongdoing.

   More than a dozen witnesses signed sworn affidavits alleging that Dowless or 
people working for him collected incomplete and unsealed ballots from voters. 
It's illegal for anyone other than a close relative or guardian to take a 
person's ballot.

   Harris said he didn't learn until late last month that the state elections 
board investigated Dowless and others potentially involved in ballot fraud in 
2016.

   "I would later learn that obviously there had been things that should have 
been looked into, but everything that had been looked into had come out just 
perfectly fine," Harris said in one of several television interviews he 
conducted earlier this month. Neither Harris nor McCready have responded to 
interview requests from The Associated Press.

   The state elections board, which has no power to prosecute election cases, 
forwarded its evidence to the federal prosecutor's office in Raleigh. The U.S. 
Attorney since September 2017 has been President Donald Trump's nominee, Robert 
Higdon.

   Harris suggested Democrats may have known about illegal ballot-harvesting 
activities in Bladen County but didn't complain until after November's election 
so that it would booby-trap the Republican's victory.

   "Could it be that they weren't prosecuted because this was a situation we 
would just lay in wait, and then the time would come that if $11 million and 
Dan McCready couldn't beat Mark Harris, maybe this would be an insurance card 
that would be played for a do-over? I don't know," Harris said.

   McCready, an Iraq War veteran and head of a solar-energy investment firm, 
said earlier this week that the former Baptist pastor of a Charlotte megachurch 
should be prosecuted if he participated in election misconduct.

   "Either he knew what was going on during his constant conversations with 
McCrae Dowless about his absentee ballot program, having been warned about the 
fraud already, and he should be in jail. Or he turned a blind eye to fraud, he 
built a culture of corruption, that represents the worst in our politics," 
McCready told WBTV.


(KA)

 
 
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