Bladen County Election Office Gave Special Access to Political Operative
Former Board Member Says

Leslie McCrae Dowless poses for a portrait outside of his home in Bladenboro, N.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

December 26, 2018

By Paul A. Specht

RALEIGH, N.C. — Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless and possibly others were provided special access to confidential information at the county’s Board of Elections office, according to allegations in affidavits disclosed Sunday as part of an investigation into North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race.

The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement last month refused to certify the results of the contest between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because the board was investigating voting irregularities in the district, including in Bladen County. The board later identified Dowless, who worked for the Harris campaign through political consulting firm Red Dome, as a “person of interest” in the case.

Dowless and other area residents are alleged to have mishandled absentee ballots, according to affidavits previously submitted to the state elections board. The latest affidavits to be disclosed were filed on behalf of the McCready campaign by Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney, and echo previous tampering allegations. The board is publicizing the affidavits and other records on an online portal.

Elias represented Gov. Roy Cooper amid the recount in the 2016 North Carolina gubernatorial race.

The latest affidavits may offer a glimpse into Dowless’ relationship with Bladen County election officials.

Bladen County election board staff allowed Dowless to “take and copy unredacted absentee ballot request forms, which include social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, state ID numbers, and signatures,” according to Jens Lutz, a former vice chair of the Bladen elections board who resigned in mid-December.

Lutz, who previously served as chairman of the Bladen County Democratic Party, started a now-defunct political consulting firm with Dowless in 2014. But Lutz told Wilmington-based TV station WCET that he only wanted to “figure out how he was operating.”

Earlier this month, in a statement from his lawyer, Dowless denied breaking any federal or state campaign laws.

Lutz’s testimony to the state elections board is similar to what he told The Associated Press for a story published Dec. 15. In his affidavit, Lutz describes the Bladen County elections board security as “lax” and claims there were “multiple instances” in which the actual absentee ballot totals didn’t match what the staff reported.

His allegations follow those of Agnes Willis, a Bladen County precinct worker who wrote in a Nov. 29 affidavit that early voting election results were “viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges,” McClatchy previously reported.

As for Dowless, Lutz claims in an affidavit that Dowless used public records laws to determine when voters would receive absentee ballots, “allowing Mr. Dowless to send his workers to those voters right after the ballots arrived.”

Because the race of voters is included on the county reports about absentee ballot requests, “Mr. Dowless could have used it to target African American voters,” Lutz told the board.

“On one occasion in the fall of 2018, I witnessed Mr. Dowless pressuring Board staff to provide this information to him,” Lutz testified. “I confronted Mr. Dowless and told him that the Board office was closed. He responded angrily, and my fellow Board of Elections member, Mr. (Bobby) Ludlum, went outside to explain the situation, after which he left the Board of Elections.”

Ludlum was aware of some of Dowless’ activities, according to an affidavit filed by Ben Snyder, chairman of the Bladen County Democratic Party.

Snyder says he heard Dowless was “intentionally losing voters’ absentee ballots.” His source is Ludlum, who relayed details of a conversation between Dowless and Cynthia Shaw, the Bladen County Board of Elections director.

“While the exact language of each party is not certain, I understand the substance of this conversation was generally as follows: Dowless: ‘Well, I have added a new trick’

Shaw: ‘What is it?’

Dowless: ‘I am throwing ballots into the trash.’”

———

©2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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