‘You don’t do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up…’
(Brian Murphy and Ely Portillo, McClatchy Washington Bureau) McCrae Dowless, an elected official and paid political operative in North Carolina’s Bladen County, had more than 800 absentee ballots in his possession before the May Republican primary, according to a new affidavit.
Dowless is a person of interest in the state board’s investigation into voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Republican Mark Harris, whose consulting firm paid Dowless for absentee ballot work in the county, won the Republican primary against incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger by 828 votes. Harris received 437 mail-in absentee votes in Bladen County to 17 for Pittenger.
Kenneth Simmons, a registered Republican in Bladen County, said he was at a campaign event with his wife for a challenger in the sheriff’s race.
“While we were in Dublin attending a meeting of Republicans, we spoke with McCrae Dowless,” said Simmons in the affidavit, notarized in Robeson County. “During the conversation, we noticed that Mr. Dowless had in his possession a large number of absentee ballots. … He stated he had over 800 ballots in his possession.”
When he asked Dowless why he hadn’t turned in the ballots, Simmons said Dowless told him: “You don’t do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up.”
“My concern was that these ballots were not going to be turned in,” said Simmons.
The affidavit was first reported by WECT-TV and released to The Charlotte Observer by the North Carolina Democratic Party.
It is unclear what the implications would be for a re-vote should the investigation currently underway involving the ballot fraud show that Pittinger was the rightful GOP candidate in the general election.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Simmons confirmed his account, but declined to comment further.
“I don’t know nothing else,” he said. “It’s just exactly what’s on there. … My wife was sitting in there and heard what they said, too.”
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is investigating mail-in absentee ballot irregularities and allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties. The nine-member board has twice declined to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris was the apparent winner in November, collecting 905 more votes than McCready.
“I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing,” Harris said in a video statement last week.
As the deadline for an initial findings report no later than Dec. 21 looms, Republicans in the state also began to push back on a number of fronts, criticizing Democrats, who have been implicated in past ballot fraud—including some Dowless has worked for—of trying to play a political hand.
A coalition of conservative groups sent a letter to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper demanding the recusal of Joshua Malcolm, current chair of the State Board of Elections, over charges that he is too partisan to oversee the investigation.
Malcolm, who brought the initial motions not to certify the election, is the only member of the NCSBE who was on the 2016 board, when he moved to dismiss similar charges that would have harmed Cooper.
As a former member of the elections board in Robeson County, which is adjacent to Bladen and also under investigation for fraud, Malcolm has said he is very well versed and has known for some time about the fraud issues in his part of the state, but has only now chosen to act on it.
Republican leaders also charged that Malcolm and others were actively ignoring current accusations of ballot fraud against Democrats in the district while focused on investigating Dowless.
Additionally, some conservative bloggers have followed a trail of shell companies involved with questionable ballot-harvesting activities to national Democratic groups, including some tied to George Soros-funded organizations.
The Charlotte Observer also reported that, in fact, Bladen County election officials had accessed the early votes prematurely and had counted them before the election was over. Robin Hayes, chairman of the state Republican Party, soundly condemned the report.
“This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for,” Hayes said in a statement. “We can never tolerate the state putting its thumb on the scale.”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.