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N.C. pastor’s election to Congress still uncertain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — On election night, it appeared former Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris finally had fulfilled a years-long sense of calling by being elected to Congress. But a month later, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has yet to certify Harris’ narrow victory in the state’s 9th Congressional District amid allegations of election fraud.

The Harris campaign told Baptist Press Dec. 4 Harris has never been aware of any wrongdoing associated with his campaign and expects all volunteers and staff to be above board in their behavior. Harris trusts the election process and God’s sovereign guidance of it, the campaign said. They added that the allegations surrounding Harris have not shaken his faith and may even have deepened his relationship with Christ.

In June 2017, Harris resigned the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., to run for Congress in the 9th District. Previously, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Harris was president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2011-13 and served on the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee.

Attack ads during the campaign have focused at times on Harris’ preaching about biblical gender roles.

According to unofficial 2018 general election results, Harris, a Republican, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 total votes cast in the 9th District. But the Board of Elections voted Nov. 30 by a 7-2 margin not to certify the results due to “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities” involving absentee ballots, according to media reports.

The board has not disclosed details of the alleged irregularities and has set a Dec. 21 deadline to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Harris criticized the board in a Nov. 30 tweet for not providing “any details to the public as to what exactly is being investigated.”

Media coverage has focused on rural Bladen County, which is being investigated by other state authorities for alleged election tampering in 2016 and 2018, the political news site Roll Call reported.

In the Nov. 6 general election, 19 percent of mail-in absentee ballots for Bladen County were cast by Republicans yet 60 percent of them went for Harris, who is from Bladen County. Additionally, media reports have cited sworn statements by Bladen County residents claiming people went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is against the law for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

Another sworn statement claims a Harris campaign contract worker may have been offered a $40,000 bonus if Harris won the election. It is illegal for campaign employees to receive bonuses, according to NBC News.

In Harris’ May primary election victory over GOP incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger, Harris won 96 percent of Bladen County absentee ballots. NBC News reported that Pittenger seemed to allege inconsistencies in the vote.

Harris tweeted Nov. 30, “Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties. There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”

According to the Board of Elections website, the 684 mail-in absentee ballots recorded in Bladen County for the 9th District congressional election do not equal Harris’ apparent district-wide margin of victory. His total Bladen County victory margin of 1,557 votes is greater than his statewide margin.

According to state law, if the board determines irregularities “cast doubt” on the election’s “fairness,” it can call for a new election regardless of the number of votes in question.