(Reuters) – A state senator who was a leading sponsor of North Carolina’s much-maligned “bathroom bill” won a decisive victory on Tuesday in a special primary to choose the Republican nominee for a rerun of a 2018 congressional race marred by election fraud.
With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, state Senator Dan Bishop bested his nine Republican rivals with nearly 48 percent of the votes cast, well above the 30 percent minimum needed to win outright, according to unofficial early returns.
His nearest contender had less than 20 percent of the vote.
The North Carolina Republican Party congratulated Bishop on the outcome and the state Democrats issued a statement recognizing him as the winner.
Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, in a Sept. 10 do-over ordered for the November 2018 general election. McCready had appeared to lose that race by a slim margin before state officials determined the election had been tainted by an absentee-ballot fraud scheme.
An investigation found a Republican political operative ran a scheme in which volunteers improperly collected, and sometimes filled in, absentee ballots to the benefit of the Republican nominee in that race, Mark Harris.
Harris did not run in the second nominating primary ordered by state officials. The contested seat has remained unfilled and the months-long scandal became an embarrassment to President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which has accused Democrats without proof of encouraging voter fraud in elections, including the 2016 presidential race.
The North Carolina race will not affect the balance of power in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
The House seat at stake, held by Republicans for more than half a century, represents a district of North Carolina that runs along the state’s southern border from Charlotte to near Fayetteville.
Bishop, closely aligned with Trump and considered a front-runner in the primary rerun, was a chief sponsor of a controversial bill enacted in 2016 by North Carolina’s legislature restricting public restroom access for transgender people.
That measure was repealed following a backlash that saw numerous athletic and business organizations boycott North Carolina.
State lawmakers instead enacted an alternative bill leaving state lawmakers in control of public bathroom policies. It also barred local jurisdictions from enacting anti-discrimination protections in housing, employment and other areas on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity until 2020.
The bipartisan state Board of Elections ordered a new vote for the 9th District in February after a four-day hearing in which election officials presented evidence of what they called a well-funded campaign to tip the election by a political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, working for Harris.
Harris’ son said during the hearing he had warned his father of potential illegal activity by Dowless. Witnesses testified that Dowless and his paid workers had collected incomplete absentee ballots and sometimes falsely signed as witnesses and filled in votes for contests left blank.
Dowless was charged with three felony counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiring to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballots, according to court documents.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in NEW YORK and Steve Gorman in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait
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