N.C. election panel outlines 'unlawful ballot scheme' in midterm race

Bladen County political operative Mc Crae Dowless

Bladen County political operative Mc Crae Dowless. Credit Steve Harrison WFAE

While the congressional and sheriff's races were nearly always marked by voters who turned in unsealed ballots, Britt said she would fill in down-ballot local races - favoring Republicans - to prevent local elections board workers from suspecting Dowless' activities.

North Carolina election officials on Monday outlined a "ballot scheme" potentially affecting more than 1,000 absentee ballots or request forms in the state's 9th Congressional District a year ago.

"We hope to have Dr Harris certified so he can take his seat in the congressional district", said David Freedman, a lawyer representing Harris. McCready initially conceded, but later withdrew his concession after he saw the "criminal activity come to light", he said, and called on Harris to tell voters what he knew and when.

It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter's ballot.

The former director of the State Election Board described how operatives going door-to-door in Bladen County tried to cover their tracks.

But the state board's decision might not be the final word.

Unofficial results have shown Harris leading McCready by only 905 votes out of almost 278,000 cast.

The state board forwarded its investigative findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2017.

Dowless was hired to produce votes for Harris and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVickers, but his methods past year included paying people to visit potential voters who had received absentee ballots and getting them to hand over those ballots, testified Lisa Britt. He had 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready after the ballots were counted in the ninth district race, but the state board of elections declined to certify Harris as the victor because of absentee balloting irregularities.

Britt testified that she did not believe Harris had any knowledge of the operation.

"We've obviously learned some new things today, things that, um, completely contrary to what Dr. Harris had been told by McRae Dowless and what McRae Dowless's public statements have been", said Alex Dale, who represents Harris. They mailed no more than nine or 10 ballots at a time, and they made sure to mail them from the nearest post offices to the voters' homes, even though numerous ballots were signed and witnessed en masse at Dowless' office.

Britt stated she was paid at least $150 per 50 absentee ballots she collected.

"The evidence will show that a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties", Elections Director Kim Strach told the five-member board, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Britt never discarded a ballot, she said, nor did she see Dowless do so. This case could potentially lead to another election being held for the state's 9th District House seat.

Britt was the first witness called in what could be a three-day hearing that may decide the outcome of the election. Britt also said that she was instructed to make copies of all absentee ballot request forms and that she kept them in a folder. When voters had left certain races blank, Britt said, she and others would fill those races in for the Republican candidate.

The elections board is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans.

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