Understanding the NC 9 Special Election

A late conclusion to the 2018 midterm elections.

“President Donald Trump and Dan Bishop at the Keep America Great rally in Fayetteville, NC on 9/9/2019.”
Photo: Jackson A. Lanier

On the 10th, the small 9th Congressional District of south-central North Carolina made national headlines when a special election was held to fill the vacant seat for their House representative. While decidedly an unusual situation, it was the circumstances surrounding the election that made it nationally significant.

    In November 2018, the 9th district election finished in a narrow margin of 49.25% to 48.93%, with Republican Mark Harris set to serve in the 116th House of Representatives. During his campaign, Harris, an evangelical minister turned politician, received support from the President and vice-President, while his opponent, Dan McCready, also enjoyed wide support from the strengthening Democratic Party in North Carolina. Harris’s victory over McCready by only 905 votes was a significant challenge to a traditionally Republican seat. However, when the district election managers were asked to recertify the tally of the close election, they refused. 

The district’s denial of further counts prompted an investigation by the North Carolina Board of Elections into the campaign. They alleged an elaborate scheme of tampering with absentee ballots carried out by Leslie Dowless, a Harris campaign-affiliated official. Dowless was indicted on several counts for tampering with mail-in ballots (votes not taken at a polling center and mailed in by those unwilling or unable to vote at the location) to favor Harris. In the midst of this controversy, the Board voted to hold another election to fill the seat, now vacant, while Harris announced the cession of his position as a candidate. 

This scandal set the stage for the late 2019 special election closing the 2018 midterms. Dan McCready ran again as the Democratic candidate, while state senator Dan Bishop filled Harris’s spot as the Republican nominee. The opposite positions of these two candidates also attracted national attention as a microcosm of partisan policy disagreements. 

Dan McCready notably showed strong opposition to gerrymandering. On the 13th, new NC Senate and House district lines were approved to replace some old ones, which were ruled in a court case to be unconstitutionally drawn. “Gerrymandered” districts are said to be drawn to favor one party over another via exploiting regional political majorities. This practice fails to acknowledge the mixed political beliefs of larger communities within a state as a whole. 

Republican state senator Dan Bishop was known before the election as the lead writer of a North Carolina anti-LGBT rights bill in 2016 that was later passed into law. HB 2, known as the “bathroom bill”, required public bathrooms to only be available to a single “birth certificate gender”, disallowing some transitioned individuals from using the restroom of their choice.

The Republican Party and President Trump celebrated Bishop’s victory in the election on the 10th over McCready, by a margin of 96,103 to 92,199 (50.73% to 48.67%). Dan Bishop will assume his role as the 9th District’s House representative in the 116th session amidst major reforms nationwide and in his own state.

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