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The move came as attention focused on Leslie McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County, North Carolina operative who was hired by a firm that got $400,000 from the Harris campaign.

While the investigation continues, the elections board has declined to certify the 9th District race, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, according to unofficial results. His highest-paid consultant was OnMessage, Inc.at $835,426.

He is alleged in voter affidavits to have collected unfinished absentee ballots.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections signaled that it will hold a hearing on the allegations by December 21 and might decide if they will certify the election, call a new election, or take another course of action.

North Carolina GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse texted a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday saying that the GOP would "fully support a new election" if the state's election board shows that absentee ballot irregularities likely changed the outcome of the 9th district U.S. House race.

During the 2016 primary, Dowless allegedly used similar tactics for another campaign, also in North Carolina's 9th.

Dowless earned more than $23,000 working on six campaigns dating back to 2010, and in most of those races, Dowless' candidates received a disproportionately higher percentage of absentee votes in Bladen County.

Highlighting the accusations in the rural North Carolina congressional district, Colbert told his viewers that Harris is a Baptist minister.

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Multiple sworn affidavits, interviews of ballot harvesters, and the weird numbers for absentee election returns suggest that GOP candidate Mark Harris, with the help of local strategist Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., paid people to visit elderly black voters in Bladen and Robeson Counties, take their absentee ballots and deliver them to the campaign - and over 1,000 ballots may have been destroyed, more than the 905-vote margin by which Harris won the race.

Hayes went on to say the state Republican Party had no knowledge of and did not participate in the absentee ballot operations under investigation.

Woodhouse defended Harris, calling him a "good man" and said there's "no way he knew about this stuff and sanctioned it".

If the District 9 race is not certified by the state board, the leaders of the U.S. House can select either Harris or McCready to fill the seat, Stone said.

Jamie Bowers, a spokesman for outgoing District 9 incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger, said he isn't sure if House leaders can chose a victor in the case of an uncertified race.

It's 'bigger than that one seat, ' she said, pointing to the overall 'integrity of elections'. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican.

Woodhouse's comments on Thursday stand in contrast to his position earlier in the week when he dismissed the idea of a new election in the Ninth District.

The state could order a new election. "Dowless' efforts were widely known, and we did share our concerns with several people", declining to elaborate on who he spoke to or what he said.


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