Ballot Tampering and Voter Fraud: What’s Going On in NC-09?

February 19, 2019 by TWN Staff
A "Dan McCready for Congress" campaign sign still stands along NC 131 near the Bladen County town of Tar Heel, N.C. (Carli Brousseau/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

Since last November’s election, the 9th District of North Carolina has yet to have a declared winner as the state’s Election Board has refused to certify the results. Initial results after the election showed Republican Mark Harris squeaked by with less than 1,000 votes over Democrat and former Marine Dan McCready. While Harris has declared victory, the new Democratic Congress has refused to seat him.

The narrow victory has been dripping with allegations of ballot tampering and voter fraud leading to an expansive investigation that will climax at a hearing Thursday before the North Carolina State Election Board.

At the center of the controversy is a political consultant named Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., hired by Mark Harris to work on the campaign’s absentee ballot strategy and get-out-the-vote operation. The 61-year old former felon has been in and around North Carolina politics for awhile, but was long registered as a Democrat before switching parties after the 2016 election. Following his party change, he helped Mark Harris narrowly win the 2018 Republican primary over incumbent Robert Pittenger and led the absentee ballot campaign for Mark Harris in the general election against Dan McCready.

Following the November election and the narrow result, red flags and questions about discrepancies in absentee ballot tallies began to arise. Two counties, Bladen and Robeson, had high numbers of absentee ballots that were requested but not returned.

It’s important to note that under North Carolina election law, anyone can request an absentee ballot for any reason and, at the end of the day, election officials file a report that indicates which voters have requested absentee ballots and who has returned them. Anyone can request a copy of this file and check to see which Republican, Democrat, or Independent voters have requested a ballot and if they have turned it in.

Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College, remarked to Vox’s Dylan Scott in an interview, “From a mechanics point of view, this is a gold mine of information for candidates and their campaign.”

Red flags were apparent as discrepancies emerged after the election. According to the Raleigh News & Observer in December, elections officials and the Wake County district attorney [looked into] allegations Dowless’s get-out-the-vote operation broke state laws for the handling of absentee ballots. Two voters have said in an election complaint that his workers collected absentee ballots in unsealed envelopes — which meant they could have been altered — and election officials say there are an unusually high number of absentee ballots unaccounted for in Bladen County.

Since then, additional irregularities have emerged, casting doubt on the election and its validity.

Sworn official affidavits by several voters in Bladen and Robeson counties revealed an unidentified woman came to their house to collect absentee ballots, while another woman claimed the worker promised to finish filling out an incomplete ballot. Another woman says she handed over her ballot unsealed.

In a report from WSOC, Datesha Montgomery, who signed a sworn affidavit, identified Lisa Britt as the woman who picked up her unsealed absentee ballot. It turns out, Lisa Britt is the stepdaughter of Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr. and a political contractor in the area, according to Buzzfeed News.

Britt and another woman related to Dowless, Jessica Dowless, told BuzzFeed News they were working for Dowless at an office during the campaign. They described counting the number of Democrats and Republicans who had voted. Absentee ballots were collected and brought to the offices. Dowless was paying his workers cash, even buying one person a car, and some of the staff were using drugs while on the job, per BuzzFeed News’s reporting.

Joe Bruno, the reporter for WSOC, found that despite three voters testifying in sworn affidavits that they handed over their completed ballots to people who had come by, promising to deliver them to state officials. But according to Bruno, he checked official records and found that none of those voters had their ballots counted.

Putting these pieces together, a story begins to emerge as to what Leslie McDowless was doing on behalf of the Harris campaign. It appears Leslie and his staff were mining public information on absentee ballots and confronting voters who had had requested absentee ballots but had yet to turn them in. Using this information, including party affiliation, they would selectively turn in the ballots and sometimes alter the ballots if necessary, acting as witnesses.

These are bombshell allegations that have roiled the political landscape in North Carolina, whose 9th District is still yet to declare a winner from the November election. This week, the Election Board is holding hearings to determine its next course of action.

The Election Board is combing through mountains of evidence, testimony, and data. We will see what they are able to determine and if they deem a new election necessary.

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