NC Elections Head Says Ballots Handled Illegally

Republican Mark Harris listens to the 9th District hearing. In unofficial results Harris leads Democrat Dan Mc Cready by 905 votes

North Carolina 9th District Seat Hinges On Election Hearing Monday

The state board's executive director, Kim Strach, told the five-member board that Leslie McCrae Dowless, a longtime political operative from Bladen County, paid workers to collect absentee ballots from voters, a felony in North Carolina.

State election officials in North Carolina said Monday that a political operative for Republican Mark Harris orchestrated a "coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" in the 9th Congressional District previous year, hiding evidence of the operation as it unfolded and obstructing the state's investigation after the election.

A woman's bombshell testimony Monday about her role in absentee ballot fraud in a North Carolina House race ended with her vouching for the Republican candidate linked to the scheme. After it hears the evidence from that investigation this week, the board will decide whether to certify the results or call for a new election.

McCrae Dowless was called to the stand near the end of the hearing's first day.

The seat has remained vacant since state officials refused to certify Harris' apparent victory over Democratic rival Dan McCready by 905 votes out of 282,717 ballots cast.

Strach did not offer evidence that Harris knew of the alleged scheme.

Harris' team said in a legal briefing submitted to the elections board last week that the board should certify him the victor no matter what Dowless did for the campaign. They operated in both Bladen and Robeson counties, submitting as many as 1,249 ballots overall in the general election.

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North Carolina requires a witness to sign an absentee ballot, and usually they are family members or friends.

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

"I think Mr. Harris was completely clueless as to what was going on", she said.

If the two Republicans vote to certify Harris' victory, but all three Democrats vote to hold a new election, the board will be deadlocked, forcing the House Administration Committee to determine the victor.

While Britt said she did not forge people's signatures, she did admit to witnessing several absentee ballots-using two separate names.

Lisa Britt, who said she worked for Dowless, testified that she collected unsealed ballots and filled them out in favour of Republicans at Dowless's home or office.

The state has twice refused to declare Harris the victor, after hearing reports of irregularities just before the election in rural Bladen County, where Dowless lives. But as investigators tightened the screws, Britt says she came to believe that Dowless had done something wrong. That means they could have been altered before being counted.

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The operation's scope allowed Dowless to collect almost $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year's general election, said Strach, adding that in addition to reviewing financial and phone records investigators questioned 142 voters in the south-central North Carolina counties.

"It's not just about those that have been returned".

That testimony contradicted the account of another poll worker, Michele Maultsby, who said earlier Tuesday that she never saw anyone view the tape listing the voting results that Saturday.

Dowless and Harris both attended Monday's hearing in Raleigh.

The elections board is deciding whether Republican Mark Harris won November's congressional election or a re-run is necessary.

If that doesn't happen, McCready's lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated - arguing the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members.

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