January 2019 Church & State | People & Events

A Southern Baptist pastor with ties to the Religious Right is facing allegations of voter fraud in North Carolina.

The Rev. Mark Harris ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress in November as a Republican. Initial results showed a very close race, with Harris edging out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

Since then, allegations of voter fraud have surfaced.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported last month that authorities are investigating Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was hired by a conservative group called Red Dome to work on voter turnout for the Harris campaign. While doing so, Dowless and others allegedly collected absentee ballots from voters in Bladen County. The collection of such ballots may be illegal because North Carolina laws say that only individual voters or close relatives can mail in an absentee ballot.

Authorities are reportedly investigating whether any of the ballots were for McCready and whether they were turned in; they’ve also raised the possibility that canvassers collected blank ballots and filled them in. As RNS reported, “State data show Bladen County saw unusually high numbers of mail-in ballot requests compared with other parts of the state, but also reported unusually high numbers of unreturned ballots, especially among African-American and Native American voters.”

Politico reported Dec. 4, “The North Carolina Democratic Party filed a half-dozen affidavits from voters in the area, who described handing over their ballots, some of them incomplete, to people who said they were assigned to pick up ballots in the area.”

Dowless has denied any wrongdoing.

Harris, formerly the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, is known for his socially conservative views. In 2012, he crusaded to add an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. More recently, he backed a law forcing transgender people to use bathrooms that corresponded with their gender as assigned at birth.

Harris spoke at last year’s “Values Voter Summit,” an annual meeting sponsored by the Religious Right group Family Research Council (FRC), and also joined FRC’s “values bus,” an effort to promote several right-wing candidates prior to the midterm elections.

As this issue of Church & State went to press, election officials in North Carolina had not certified Harris as the official winner.