What was considered a highly competitive and “top-tier” race to watch in Nov 2018 election cycle for the US House NC-09 was between Mark Harris (R), who managed to unseat the Republican incumbent in the Republican primaries, and the Democrat challenger Dan McCready.
The race was called by the press, then FiveThirtyEight. Harris was expected to win with a lead of only 905 votes.
In case you missed it, it has been more than three months since the November mid-term elections and more than a month into the new U.S. Congressional session and North Carolina’s Congressional District 09 still does not have a sitting representative since, when, on November 27th, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform voted to not certify the November 6 election results due to “irregularities involving absentee ballots.”
“In a low-slung, aging commercial strip across the street from an online-gaming parlor here, a local operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless ran his command center for Republican Mark Harris in the 9th Congressional District primary this spring,” the Washington Post had reported.
Republican Mark Harris hired the political consulting group Red Dome Group, which has been helping Republican candidates for more than five years in North Carolina. Red Dome’s owner Andy Yate hired McCrae Dowless.
After many twists and bizarre turns, the newly seated North Carolina’s State Election Board, made up of three Democrats and two Republicans was finally seated and convened on Monday for a state hearing into allegations of absentee ballot voter fraud, The Hill reported.
There is only one of two options this hearing will conclude: Either call the election for Mark Harris or call for a new election.
“We believe the evidence we will provide today will show that a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties.”
Those words were part of North Carolina’s State Elections Board Director Kim Strach’s opening statement on Monday’s hearing.
Strach said the investigation “of the alleged scheme was based on interviews with 142 voters and 30 witnesses” that “also subpoenaed thousands of financial and phone records as part of the probe,” alleging there was a “coordinated, unlawful & substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Blanden and Robeson counties.”
In her opening remarks, Strach detailed an alleged ballot-tampering scheme operated by Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative in rural Bladen County who she said hired workers to falsify absentee ballot request forms, collect absentee ballots and falsify witness certifications in an apparent violation of state election laws.
The alleged scheme was coordinated and well resourced, Strach said. She also said that security at the elections office in Bladen County, where some of the alleged ballot tampering took place, had been insufficient.
Dowless allegedly paid workers $150 for every 50 absentee ballot request forms they collected and $125 for every 50 absentee ballots collected, Strach said. What’s more, Red Dome, a consulting firm hired by Harris’s campaign, paid Dowless $131,275 between July 3, 2017, and Nov. 7, 2018.
A North Carolina political operative paid workers to collect absentee ballots and falsify witness certifications for those ballots, the state’s chief elections official said Monday.The Hill
Raleigh, North Carolina’s The News & Observe reported and provided updates through out the day.
“Witness Lisa Britt,” who is Dowless’ step-daughter “testifys that McRae Dowless told her and her mother to deny any wrongdoing by him and to take the 5th Amendment at a Board of Elections hearing.”
“Sanda Dowless, McCrae Dowless’ ex-wife, testifies about conversation between husband and candidate Mark Harris.”
Dowless was in attendance at today’s hearing, appearing with his attorneys Marc Elias and Cynthia Singletary. Elias said “Dowless was appearing before the board because he had been subpoenaed to attend, but their position is that if he testifies, he should receive immunity” and will not testify “unless he is compelled to do so.”
Elias added, “they should have the right to put Dowless on the stand and question him” and that “Dowless would then be allowed to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination if he so chose.”
“McCrae Dowless, the person at the center of alleged election actiivites [sic] in NC’s 9th District, refuses to testify unless granted immunity at a NC State Board of Elections hearing in Ralegh, NC, Feb 18, 2019. The board refused to grant immunity.”
For the running updates from Monday’s hearing for all context and content, read The News & Observer.
The hearing will continue today. Stay tuned.