By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
The ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District could be described as anything but peaceful. The high-stakes political race for the district that stretches from eastern Mecklenburg to Bladen counties was contentious the moment pastor Mark Harris unseated Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary and grew more heated when Democrat Dan McCready’s ads used portions of Harris’ past sermons out of context.
Then Harris’ 905-vote winning margin was called into question amid allegations of fraud in Bladen County, where an employee of a consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign, has become a person of interest. Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections that had begun investigating potential irregularities regarding the handling of absentee ballots was dissolved by court order because of unrelated legal problems, leaving the election’s outcome uncertified and preventing Harris from being sworn into Congress on Jan. 3.
Despite the uproar and a Wake County Superior Court judge’s refusal to step in and certify the vote, the Charlotte minister has told friends that he is personally at peace.
Harris had filed a petition asking the court to move forward without waiting for a new Board of Elections, which Gov. Roy Cooper is not bound to appoint until Jan. 31. But on Tuesday, Judge Paul Ridgeway said it would be inappropriate for him to order elections officials to act while they are still investigating.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes pointed out that the judge’s refusal to act does not change anything regarding the vote tally from Nov. 6, 2018.
“Nothing about today’s court hearing changes the fact that Congressman-Elect Dr. Mark Harris won the election. He received more legal votes and no public evidence has shown the outcome is in doubt,” Hayes wrote in a statement released after the hearing. “We are confident that Dr. Harris will be certified by the new State Board and will be seated in Washington.”
Denying any wrongdoing in the election, Harris had earlier told the media that the controversy surrounding electioneer McRae Dowless has been more hurtful than McCready’s attacks because it has cast a shadow on his character and reputation.
“I intend to stand on that good name and reputation that I have built over 30 years as a senior pastor in the state of North Carolina and the leadership that I’ve been able to bring,” he told reporters.
The former president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and former pastor of First Baptist of Charlotte, where he served from 2005 to 2017, Harris has not shied away from difficult cultural issues.
Harris took the lead in the fight for marriage in 2012, championing the amendment to the state’s constitution to define it as only between a man and a woman. He also championed House Bill 2, the state’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he had found Harris to be a man of “impeccable integrity and sound Christian conviction.”
“I can’t believe for even a minute that he knew about or was complicit with any election fraud. I have quietly encouraged him that whenever we take care of our character, God will take care of our interests and reputation. I trust that he’s done this and will continue doing it,” Creech said.
He urged Christians to pray for Harris, truth, and justice.
“There are nefarious forces in politics today that despise the children of light. More specifically, they hate with a passion conservative evangelicals. They are masters in cunning and craft and committed to deep-laid scheming to oust or stop them from any participation in the political process,” Dr. Creech said.
“They will leave no stone unturned for their destruction. They treat the godly as if they were vermin to be exterminated. There are stories throughout the Bible about this. I suspect this is the scenario Harris faces and he must be patient and stay on the highway of holiness where there is safety for every traveler.”
Even as Harris continues to fight his way toward Congress, the investigation into election problems in Bladen County seems to be widening. Two N.C. Senators, Republicans Harry Brown of Onslow County and Kathy Harrington of Gaston County, are pushing for answers regarding communication between Jens Lutz, who was vice chairman of the Bladen County Board of Elections, and then-vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Josh Malcolm.
Records revealed by WBTV show the pair exchanged text messages or talked on the phone on 13 different days between early April and the end of November with the frequency of their communication increasing as election-day drew near. Neither man will answer reporters’ questions about the conversations and Lutz resigned from his position in early December.
Brown and Harrington wrote Malcolm a letter Jan. 4 asking a dozen or so questions about the conversations, many focusing on whether the men, both Democrats, discussed apparent ballot irregularities before the 2018 election.
On Jan. 18, WBTV reported that a Lee Ann Herring, a Republican voter in Bladen County, turned in her absentee ballot to Lutz, only to find out later that it had not been counted. Records showed Herring’s ballot was not marked as having been received on the Bladen County Board of Elections’ list of absentee voters. Nor does the online voter database maintained by the North Carolina State Board of Elections show Herring as having voted in the 2018 election.
However, the state board did find Herring’s ballot after the news station began inquiring. NCSBE officials told the media it was in a stack of ballots at their office, all of which they believe were tabulated.