There’s one thing VERY fishy happening in North Carolina


Republican Mark Harris was forward of Democrat Dan McCready by solely 905 votes after the ballots had been counted. However state officials are now investigating allegations that absentee ballots had been tampered with, and plenty of of them had been signed by the identical small group of individuals — an uncommon sample which will point out improper exercise. Add to that blend a domestically recognized Republican guide who was beforehand convicted of fraud and an absentee poll collector who alleges she was paid, and you have a nightmare of confusion — as a congressional seat hangs within the steadiness.
So, what the heck is happening within the Tar Heel State? I reached out to Joe Bruno of WSOC Channel 9 in Charlotte, who’s doing wonderful work on the bottom, uncovering new particulars within the alleged voter fraud investigation.

Our dialog, carried out through e mail and frivolously edited for move, is under.

Cillizza: Let’s begin easy: What’s the difficulty with the absentee ballots in Bladen County and what do we all know as of proper now?

Bruno: The bipartisan North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics is investigating “claims of irregularities and fraudulent actions associated to absentee by-mail voting and doubtlessly different issues within the ninth Congressional District contest.”

The board consists of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats and one unaffiliated member. The primary vote to research the claims and never certify the outcomes was unanimous. The second vote was 7-2, with two Republicans voting no. Up to now the entire board’s discussions have been in closed session, so the specifics of the irregularities are nonetheless unclear. However information I’ve obtained shed extra gentle on what occurred.

Six affidavits I obtained last week go into element about uncommon and unlawful actions surrounding absentee ballots. One individual claims a girl got here by her home to choose up her absentee-by-mail vote. When the girl picked up the vote it was unsealed and the voter didn’t signal it. One other individual additionally claims a girl got here by to choose up her vote. The voter solely chosen two races and claims the girl instructed her to not fear about the remainder of them and that she would end it for her. Different affidavits go into element about absentee-by-mail ballots that they voters did not request. Lastly two affidavits introduce us to the person who seems to be on the heart of this investigation, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr.

Cillizza: Who’s Leslie McCrae Dowless — and what will we learn about his function within the Harris marketing campaign?

Bruno: Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. is the vice chair of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District, an elected place. He’s additionally an electioneer with a legal previous. His legal file dates again to the 80s and 90s. He was convicted of passing a nugatory verify, perjury and felony fraud. He served six months behind bars. As I discussed, McCrae’s title surfaced due to the affidavits. One affidavit claims to have heard McCrae can be paid $40,000 if Mark Harris gained. In one other affidavit, an individual claims McCrae instructed him he was doing “absentee” for Mark Harris and Jim McVicker, the Bladen County Sheriff. The affidavit additionally says McCrae had 80 folks working for him from Cumberland to Charlotte.

McCrae is well-known in Bladen County political circles. Marketing campaign finance reviews present his political involvement dates again to at the least 2010 when he was working for a Bladen County district lawyer candidate. A majority of the funds to him had been for “get out the vote” efforts. The candidate he was working for gained Bladen County. Over the subsequent a number of years, McCrae was paid hundreds of {dollars} by japanese North Carolina candidates for get out the vote efforts. However he did not simply work for japanese NC candidates. Information present he was paid $800 by a Charlotte Metropolis Council candidate named Pete Givens for “consulting charges.” Givens and Harris are shut associates. In response to the Charlotte Observer, Harris launched Givens to McCrae.

McCrae wasn’t at all times on Mark Harris’ workforce. Marketing campaign finance information present McCrae labored for Todd Johnson within the 2016 Republican main for the ninth District. Johnson was operating in opposition to incumbent Robert Pittenger and Harris. Johnson completed final within the main however first in Bladen County. A deeper take a look at the votes reveals Johnson acquired 98% of the absentee-by-mail votes with a complete of 221. Mark Harris acquired 4 votes. Incumbent Robert Pittenger acquired one vote.

In 2018, McCrae was employed by Pink Dome, a political consulting agency working for the Harris marketing campaign based mostly within the Charlotte suburbs. The agency has been paid at the least $428,000 from the Harris marketing campaign. Disbursements are listed for admin and workers and grassroots. In 2018, Harris obtained greater than 4 absentee-by-mail votes in Bladen County. Just like Johnson, Harris put up big absentee-by-mail numbers within the main for Bladen County. Harris acquired 437 of 456 absentee-by-mail votes. Incumbent Pittenger solely acquired 17.

Within the basic election in opposition to McCready, Harris acquired 61% of the absentee-by-mail votes in Bladen County. Bladen was the one county within the ninth District the place Harris acquired extra absentee-by-mail votes than McCready. An evaluation by Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba School discovered “In Bladen County, 61% of the accepted absentee-by-mail ballots went Republican — the one county to take action; which means that together with the just about 20% of loyal registered Republicans who voted that methodology, Harris would have additionally acquired nearly all of the registered unaffiliated voters and/or some Democratic registered voters to make it to 62% of the vote.”

So what was happening right here? Properly, as I discussed earlier than, affidavits claimed folks had been going round to choose up the absentee-by-mail ballots. One voter I interviewed who did not signal an affidavit, Stacy Holcomb, instructed me the girl who picked up his poll was sporting a Mark Harris T-shirt.

So what was McCrae doing? A supply offered me with photocopies of 159 submitted and accepted absentee-by-mail envelopes. Until a notary is current, every poll needs to be signed by two witnesses. What we discovered was eight folks signed as a witness for at the least 10 ballots. Three folks signed as a witness for greater than 40 ballots. This in and of itself is uncommon. Give it some thought. If you submit an absentee poll who’re you more likely to ask to be a witness? Most likely a member of the family, neighbor or coworker. Right here we now have the identical group of individuals signing as witnesses for ballots throughout Bladen County. Many instances collectively. I went down the record of the witnesses. Two folks weren’t residence. One individual wasn’t a tenant on the handle she claimed to stay at. Then I met Ginger Eason. Eason instructed me she has been a buddy of McCrae Dowless’ for a pair years. She stated McCrae paid her $75 to $100 a week to pick up absentee ballots. That is unlawful. What did she do with the ballots? She says she by no means noticed who folks voted for and she or he by no means discarded the ballots. However she did not mail them. She gave them to McCrae. When requested if the entire voters who gave her ballots had their votes despatched to the elections workplace, she stated she would not know what occurred to them after she gave them to McCrae. When requested if she was instructed to inform folks about sure candidates she stated Harris and Sheriff McVicker, that is who McCrae was working for. She stated McCrae had different folks working for him too.

It took many days, cellphone calls and visits to McCrae’s home and workplace. Lastly yesterday he poked his head out of his facet door and instructed me, “I’ve no remark, have an excellent day,” as I fired off questions repeatedly. He ultimately shut the door.

Cillizza: The 2 candidates are separated by simply over 900 votes. Do we now have any sense of how widespread this potential absentee ballots rip-off was? Might it flip the result?

Bruno: Along with NC-09, the NCSBE refused to certify two native races in Bladen and Robeson counties so that offers us an thought of the place the scope of the investigation is. There have been greater than 3,400 unreturned absentee ballots from Bladen and Robeson counties. What occurred to these votes? As I discussed, one of many affidavits claims Dowless was working from Cumberland County to Charlotte. What did he do in these counties? We do not know. Of notice although, in response to state legislation there doesn’t need to be extra fraud than the margin of victory to ensure that there to be a brand new election ordered. A brand new election will be ordered if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the outcomes of your entire election and solid doubt on its equity.

Cillizza: What is the recourse if Dowless is discovered to have damaged the legislation? Is a brand new election on the desk? And, if that’s the case, when would possibly that occur?

Bruno: In response to Gerry Cohen, former particular counsel for the [North Carolina] basic meeting, if NCSBE orders a brand new election it’s again to the identical three candidates, Republican Mark Harris, Democrat Dan McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott. These candidates can solely get replaced on the poll in the event that they transfer out of state. If the incoming US Home orders a brand new election, which means there shall be a brand new submitting, main and basic election. Federal legislation mandates at the least 45 days for absentee voting. There may be an evidentiary listening to scheduled by the NCSBE to occur on or earlier than December 21. There isn’t a timeline for when every part has to wrap up by. The NCSBE has stated although they’re conscious of the January Three date for swearing in.

Cillizza: End this sentence: “When the 116th Congress convenes in January, the ninth District in North Carolina shall be represented by ____________?” Now, clarify.

Bruno: My official reply is ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

If you happen to ask different people who find themselves following this intently they are going to seemingly say the identical factor. I’ll simply say this: The investigation doesn’t appear like it would come to an in depth any time quickly. Daily it appears to take a brand new flip. There’s an opportunity the ninth District can have no illustration in January. In as we speak’s political setting, it’s clear whoever finally ends up representing the ninth District can have an asterisk by their title within the minds of many.

Another ideas if you need them: I’ve lined the ninth District race from the start. Many individuals thought incumbent Robert Pittenger had within the bag. Polls had him up large. Mark Harris’ victory was considered by many as a giant upset. A lot so, many TV stations did not have his main election evening staffed till the outcomes began to come back in and he appeared like he was going to win. The ninth District race was like many others that performed out in 2018. Harris, the Republican candidate, tied himself to President Donald Trump. His pitch to voters was to place him in workplace to proceed the President’s agenda. Dan McCready ran a Conor Lamb/Joe Cunningham-style marketing campaign. He vowed to not vote for Nancy Pelosi. His pitch to voters was “nation over get together.” Did the message resonate? Looks as if it. Trump gained the district by 12 factors in 2016. McCready completed behind Harris by 905 votes.

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