Southern Baptist In the Midst of Election Fraud Controversy

[Religion News Service] The Rev. Mark Harris, a Southern Baptist pastor turned aspiring congressman, is facing allegations of election fraud in North Carolina, where authorities are investigating whether an operative for his campaign paid workers to take absentee ballots from voters illegally.

The probe is centered on Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was hired by the conservative political group Red Dome to work on voter turnout for Harris’ campaign for the U.S. House seat from the Charlotte area. State officials are following reports that Dowless led a team of workers in Bladen County to collect absentee ballots from voters — an act that may violate North Carolina laws that only allow individual voters or close relatives to mail a ballot.

Authorities are especially interested in whether ballots taken from voters who backed Harris’ opponent, Democrat and Marine Corps veteran Dan McCready, were ever returned to election officials. State datashow 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.

The current vote tally has Harris, who stepped down as pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church in June 2017 to run for the House, beating McCready by a margin of just 905 votes.

Reports indicate that Harris, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and lost a close GOP congressional primary in 2016 by 134 votes, knew Dowless at least since 2017, when the pastor introduced Dowless to a church member who was running for Charlotte City Council. According to The Charlotte Observer, Harris subsequently told the church member that Dowless was known for getting out absentee votes.

Dowless, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also known to law enforcement due to earlier convictionsfor fraud, perjury and other crimes in the early 1990s, for which he served six months in prison, according to court records.

Harris’ campaign did not return a request for comment.

The allegations are awkward for Harris, who made a name for himself in the Tar Heel State as a conservative crusader.

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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jack Jenkins and first posted at Religion News Service]

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