Mark Harris released a video statement addressing allegations of absentee ballot fraud less than a day after his campaign acknowledged in a federal filing that it owes $34,310 to a political consultant for work in a county where mail-in ballot problems emerged. The state Board of Elections has refused to certify election results that give Harris a slim lead while it investigates.
"If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity - on either side - to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results," Harris said in the video.
He also said his campaign is cooperating with the investigation by the state board, but added: "I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing."
A Federal Election Commission filing by the Harris campaign late Thursday referred to money owed to the Red Dome Group for debts including: "Reimbursement Payment for Bladen Absentee, Early Voting Poll Workers; Reimbursement Door to Door."
Bladen County's absentee ballots are at the center of a fraud probe that prompted the state elections board to refuse last week to certify Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready in the state's 9th District. The board cited allegations of "irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" involving mail-in ballots, and subpoenaed both the Harris campaign and Red Dome for documents.
The board could order a new election after meeting later this month to consider the evidence. For now, the vote count remains unofficial, with Harris leading McCready by 905 votes in the district that stretches from the Charlotte area east through several counties.
Some Bladen County voters have said strangers came to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been fully completed or sealed in an envelope to keep them from being altered, according to affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party. State law allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.
Red Dome hired Bladen County contractor McCrae Dowless, whose criminal record includes prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and a conviction for felony perjury in 1992.
The state board issued a statement Friday confirming that Dowless is a "person of interest" in the probe being led by four elections investigators with experience in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
According to documents released by the elections board, Dowless seems to have collected the most absentee ballot request forms in Bladen County this fall. A copy of the Bladen election board's log book shows Dowless turned in well over 500 applications.
The FEC report also lists two other debts totaling nearly $20,000 to Red Dome for digital advertising, robocalls and mailings for Harris. The filing says those mailings were in Robeson County, another area where the state board has sought information as part of its probe. The details were part of a wide-ranging post-election report on the campaign's finances.
McCready, expressing outrage over what he called a shameful attack on democracy, withdrew his concession in a video released late Thursday. He's demanding that Harris explain what he knows about the absentee ballot allegations.
"He hired a criminal who was under investigation for ballot fraud to do his absentee ballot work, and it looks like he got what he paid for," McCready told CNN on Friday.
Dowless declined to comment when visited by an Associated Press reporter this week at his home, and didn't immediately respond to a phone message Friday. Neither Harris, nor the head of the Red Dome Group, Andy Yates, responded to messages seeking comment.
Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson and Emery P. Dalesio contributed to this report.
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