Politics

Rep. Robert Pittenger Won’t Run Even if ‘Ballot Harvesting’ Probe Causes Primary Do-Over

Incumbent NC congressman lost GOP primary to Mark Harris, who is now under investigation by state board

Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., won’t run for his seat again should fraud allegations against Mark Harris result in a new primary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Should an investigation into fraud allegations in the race for North Carolina’s 9th District trigger a new primary contest, the incumbent won’t be a candidate.

Rep. Robert Pittenger — who was ousted in a May primary election that has attracted national attention for absentee ballot irregularities favorable to winner Mark Harris — said Monday that he won’t run again. 

“Regardless of the determination of the evidentiary hearing, I will not be a candidate in a possible primary election,” the two-term Republican said in a statement. 

Harris won 96 percent of all mail-in absentee ballots in rural Bladen County in his primary race against Pittenger, far outpacing his overall margin of victory in the rest of the district.

The night of his defeat to Harris, Pittenger grumbled about the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” the Washington Post reported. 

Pittenger’s statement Monday refers to a scheduled Jan. 11 hearing by the North Carolina State Board of Elections to investigate possible illegal ballot harvesting by an operative working for the Harris campaign. 

But it is unclear whether that hearing will occur. A long-running partisan battle resulted in a court order to dissolve the state board of elections last week.

Pittenger’s announcement also comes days after incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Harris will not be seated in the new Congress until the fraud allegations are resolved. 

“In this instance, the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress,” Hoyer said in a statement Friday.

The seat could remain vacant for months.

“We’re in a no man’s land at this particular point for the next 30-plus days as to who has power, who has authority, and where does all this go," political scientist Michael Bitzer said in an interview with WCNC.

GOP consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. paid employees $75 to $100 per week to collect absentee ballots in the county and deliver them to him, according to media reports. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in Bladen County was scrutinized in the general election against Democrat Dan McCready. Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots even though just 19 percent of the voters who requested and received mail-in ballots were registered Republicans.

Watch: 2018 in 5 Minutes — the Best of Congressional Hits and Misses

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