It’s been more than three months since the 2018 midterm elections, and North Carolina’s ninth Congressional district, which includes roughly 775,000 people and begins around Charlotte then snakes east along the South Carolina border, still doesn’t have a representative. Perhaps you have heard about why. If you haven’t, well, it’s because a guy working for Mark Harris, a pastor and a perennial Republican candidate who came in about 900 votes ahead of Democratic opponent Dan McCready, got caught in a massive voter-fraud operation.
In a legal filing, McCready’s campaign alleges that not only did Harris’s goon, a guy named McCrae Dowless, illegally collect absentee ballots in one of the district’s counties and throw away ones that were marked for McCready, Dowless and his team also collected unmarked absentee ballots and filled them out for Harris. Team McCready’s evidence that something fishy was going on is fairly solid: their filing notes that in Bladen County, “Harris received an [absentee ballot] share 41 percentage points higher than the number of registered Republicans voting [by absentee ballot].” Obviously, this is bad, so bad that the North Carolina Board of Elections has decided the district has to do the whole election over again.
The essential issue here was whether Harris knew that he’d hired a convicted felon to rig absentee ballots for him. If he’d hired a non-criminal to do non-crimes, then it’s possible that the North Carolina Board of Elections could have simply thrown the contested votes out and, assuming the tally were still in Harris’s favor (which, given that up to a thousand ballots might have been tampered with, it might not have been), award him the seat. This is what Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, wanted to see happen.
On February 20, that question was settled in one of the most dramatic courtroom moments this side of A Few Good Men, when Mark Harris’s son John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, took the stand and testified he’d warned his dad that Dowless engaged in illegal behavior and shouldn’t be hired by the campaign. Additionally, John Harris gave the Board of Elections copies of emails he’d sent to his father, in which he’d pointed out the specific laws that Dowless’s practices violated, testifying that the elder Harris ignored the legal advice of his son who is literally a lawyer. Harris’s excuse for not listening to his son, which he delivered in court today, was that his son is 27 and “has a little taste of arrogance.”
If I had a nickel for every time my rowdy and incredibly arrogant adult lawyer son told me to not do an illegal thing and I did it anyway, I would have zero nickels. This is not because I don’t have an adult son. I do. His name is Lyle and he is a fucking disgrace who doesn’t call me enough. But if Lyle were a lawyer and not a bullshit social media consultant and actually picked up that damn phone that Carol and I still pay the bill for to warn me that it was illegal for me to dump the waste from my hog farm into a public lake, I would listen, because if Lyle had gone to law school like his mother and I told him to, maybe I wouldn’t be paying all of these fines right now. But I digress. Also, Lyle, I love you. Even a text once in a while would be nice.
It’s important to understand that the North Carolina Republican Party essentially put themselves in this position. Ever since they took control of the state’s General Assembly in 2010 and obtained the power to draw state and national legislative districts for the next decade, the party has become more and more extreme, emboldened by the fact that they’ve put themselves in a position where they essentially cannot lose except in a handful of districts where they concentrated Democratic voters. Meanwhile, Mark Harris is not a conventional Republican, even by North Carolina’s standards. You don’t need to look further than his Wikipedia page, which notes that he wants to eliminate the Department of Education, thinks we should cut future Social Security payments for people under 50, hates both Islam and Judaism, and is skeptical about the whole “women having jobs” thing.
During the 2018 Republican house primaries, Harris, one of the leading Baptist pastors in the state, successfully defeated the Republican incumbent, Robert Pettinger, by claiming that he was “one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress.” Given that Pittenger is a racist and climate-change denier, this would have seemed like a stretch, but it worked, and so the North Carolina Republican party was left with a candidate who sincerely believes God wants us to own assault weapons.
This worked out well for the Democrats, who’d put up a fairly strong candidate for office in McCready, a 34-year-old former Marine turned solar-farm investor, the platform of whom focused on relatively uncontroversial issues such as conservation, job-creation, and fighting corruption in Washington. (Though, credit where credit’s due, he also was in favor of full federal recognition of the local Lumbee Indian tribe, who the government has been screwing over for 130 years.) If there were ever a chance for the Democrats to overcome the odds and win this seat for the first time in 56 years, it was going to be pitting an ex-Marine solar panel guy against the dude who I wouldn’t be surprised to learn thinks the sun revolves around the earth. The Republicans seemed to know this, hauling Donald Trump down for a rally as a last-minute attempt to pull out a victory for Harris. “Honestly, get out and vote,” Trump told the crowd. “Let’s not take a chance.”
Turns out Mark Harris wasn’t taking a chance either, and all it took was his son snitching on him for us to find out. Normally I am firmly against snitching as a practice, but in this case it turned out to be the heroic move. Because of his son’s brave act of basic decency, Mark Harris was left with no choice other than to request that a new election take place, which the Board of Elections was gracious enough to grant him (though, as The New York Times notes, Harris may not run this time around). This is how things should get done more often in America: by children holding their dumb-ass hack parents to account. After all, they’re the ones who will suffer the consequences when the entire state of North Carolina is under water. If only more kids were willing to testify against their parents, we might actually get somewhere.
No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s kids, that’s never gonna happen. Instead, I’m talking about you, Lyle. It has been three months since we’ve spoken and my trial for another incident related to dumping hog waste is coming up soon. Also, if you’re reading this, please come fix my computer because it is running out of gigabytes.
[Update: Portions of the original text have been changed to reflect the February 22 decision by the North Carolina Board of Elections to hold a new election for the state’s ninth Congressional district.]