Mark Harris really wants to be a congressman. Depending on what day of the week it is, the NCGOP wants him to be one, too. After a few days of relatively agreeable sentiments from their camp, the most recent release from the Party urges the NCSBE to release whatever information they’ve collected thus far to the public. We could give them the benefit of the doubt, and let stand their claims that this is purely about transparency for the public. But then that would be naive to assume best intentions from a cadre of political operatives hellbent on seating Mark Harris, no matter what fraud may have occurred, and under whose purview that fraud was conducted.
The last piece I wrote about Mark Harris focused in on what seemed like their decision to cut ties with him. Republican legislators in Raleigh added a measure that would require there to be a new primary if the result in NC09 is thrown out. Why would the Republicans call for a new primary if they have gone to bat, time and again, for Harris during this debacle? Clearly, they are ready to ditch him if it makes a Republican victory in NC09 more likely.
It would be a mistake, I think, to view the machinations of the General Assembly and the NCGOP as conflicting signals. The goal of the GOP in general is to win NC09 with a Republican; whether or not that Republican is named Mark Harris is immaterial. The NCGOP is the first line of defense for Harris: their best chance to win this race is to push for the results as we know them now — a 905 vote victory for Harris — to be certified.
If you want to get into same light game theory — who doesn’t? — this is an issue of information. There are two reasonable options for Republicans, at present: stick with Harris and demand his certification; or, dump Harris and demand a new primary. The difference between which option you pick depends entirely on how much you know about what Harris did (or didn’t) do.
The only way to divine which decision is better is to gather more information. Sometimes, this is impossible, like when a state board is conducting an investigation and doesn’t release much information about it to the public. Without knowing how damning the evidence gathered against Harris is, the smart choice is to stay with him and try to get him certified.
Another method that the NCGOP is using to push their narrative that this race is being “stolen” from Harris is a willful misreading of the statutes governing election fraud. Here are the facts, straight from the NCGA website, regarding new elections (bold emphasis my own):
§ 163A-1181. New elections.
a. When State Board May Order New Election. – The State Board may order a new election, upon agreement of at least five of its members, in the case of any one or more of the following:
- Ineligible voters sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election were allowed to vote in the election, and it is not possible from examination of the official ballots to determine how those ineligible voters voted and to correct the totals.
- Eligible voters sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election were improperly prevented from voting.
- Other irregularities affected a sufficient number of votes to change the outcome of the election.
- Irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.
As Prof. Michael Bitzer has – repeatedly – pointed out, there is no language here to suggest that there should be an order of operations or some other requirement other than five of the members agreeing that one of these four criteria were satisfied. Specifically, it seems that the fourth and final point is salient for NC09 — with the alleged harvesting of unsealed ballots, the results of the entire election are cast into doubt. It appears to me that the fairness of this election is certainly in doubt, given what we know from reporters and investigators thus far.
Irrespective of what the various investigations yield, Mark Harris has some serious explaining to do. The Washington Post article that cited multiple folks claiming Harris knowingly hired Dowless for his criminal services needs to face more scrutiny, and Harris needs to be much more forthcoming. Being silent is no service to himself — he’s letting McCready and the media paint him as a corrupt politician that would do anything it takes to win an election. If that’s not true, he ought to defend himself. If it is true, the lies better be pretty elaborate to explain this away.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.