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North Carolina Election Won by Antigay Minister Will Have a Do-Over

Dan McCready and Mark Harris
From left: Dan McCready and Mark Harris

The state's Ninth Congressional District will have a new election due to evidence of voter fraud that may have helped Republican Mark Harris.

There will be a new election in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District, where a homophobic, misogynistic Republican was declared the winner of the race by a narrow margin in November.

The state Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to hold a new election for the Charlotte-area seat due to widespread evidence of illegal activities that may have benefited Republican Mark Harris, a former Baptist minister, NBC News reports. Harris has a long history of homophobia; among other things, he has expressed longing for the days when being gay was illegal.

In hearings this week, the board heard testimony about political consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Harris's campaign. "Throughout the week, state investigators described a 'coordinated, unlawful' mail-in ballot 'scheme' in Bladen County run by operative Dowless that included the collection of absentee ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina," NBC reports. Investigators presented evidence that Dowless and his workers either destroyed ballots filled in for Democrat Dan McCready or changed them to votes for Harris.

Harris's son John, a federal prosecutor in North Carolina, told the board he had warned his father about Dowless. But Mark Harris, who has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing, said Dowless assured him that all his activities would be within the law. The consultant has not been charged with any crime.

Harris, who had beaten incumbent Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary, ended up besting McCready in the general election by less than one percentage point. McCready conceded, but the Democratic leaders of the U.S. House announced they would refuse to seat Harris after the allegations of fraud began to emerge. Democrats won the House majority in the November election.

In 2012, Harris led the effort to add a ban on same-sex marriage to North Carolina's constitution. Voters approved it, but that and other state bans were voided by the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling in 2015. At an event that year, Harris lamented the acceptance of LGBTQ people, saying, "We have watched in one generation where homosexuality was once criminalized to now we see the criminalization of Christianity "

He has also said that women should submit to their husbands and questioned whether careers were "a healthy pursuit" for women. His supporters have contended those statements were taken out of context. He has had the backing of the American Family Association, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, which has broadcast his sermons on its American Family Radio.

Harris surprised some political observers Thursday by also calling for a new election, saying the state needed to do so to restore voters' faith in the process.

There will be new primaries and a new general election, so voters may have a fresh slate of candidates to choose from. McCready is already soliciting campaign donations on Twitter, but it's unclear if Harris will run again, The Board of Elections will set the dates at a future meeting.

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