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N.C. election panel outlines 'unlawful ballot scheme' in midterm race

By Nicholas Sakelaris and Daniel Uria
N.C. election panel outlines 'unlawful ballot scheme' in midterm race
Voters in North Carolina's 9th District could get a chance to redo the hotly-contested midterm race for the House. File photo by Joe Belanger/Shutterstock/UPI

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- North Carolina election officials on Monday outlined a "ballot scheme" potentially affecting more than 1,000 absentee ballots or request forms in the state's 9th Congressional District last year.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections revealed the findings of a three-month investigation into the Nov. 6. The probe uncovered efforts to obstruct an investigation into a process known as "ballot harvesting."

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"The evidence will show that a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties," Elections Director Kim Strach told the five-member board, The Charlotte Observer reported.

The elections board is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, and the meetings could last until Wednesday.

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The congressional seat remains vacant because the election was fraught with allegations of illegal ballot collection and election fraud. Republican Mark Harris finished with 905 more votes than Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results but the State Board of Elections refused to certify the results.

At issue is whether political operative McCrae Dowless -- and others whom he paid -- picked up vote-by-mail ballots in person in Bladen County, where Harris won 61 percent of the vote. That led to accusations that ballots were manipulated or thrown out.

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The state board of elections brought Dowless in to testify in a potential election fraud case, also in Bladen County, in the 2016 election.

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Strach said Dowless was paid $131,375 by the Harris campaign and in turn "instructed workers to falsely sign [ballots] as witnesses."

Some ballots were filled in in Dowless' home or office and Lisa Britt, who said Dowless is her stepfather, testified that he ran operation to collect and turn in absentee ballots, including providing guidance on filling in incomplete ballots and forging signatures.

Britt said Dowless gathered her and other workers after the investigation began and instructed them to say he never directed anyone to collect ballots.

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"As long as we all stick together we'll all be fine, because they don't have anything on us," she said he told them.

Britt also said Dowless provided her with a statement to read during the hearing, instructed her to plead the Fifth Amendment and say neither she nor Dowless had done anything wrong.

"I do feel I have done wrong," Britt said. "Did I know I was? No."

McCready and his campaign called for a new election, hoping to add another seat to the Democratic majority in the House. Republicans want Harris certified as the winner and view the complaints as a conspiracy.

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"Clearly, the illegal absentee ballot harvesting scheme employed by the Harris for Congress campaign has tainted the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness," said the group's executive director, Gerrick Brenner. "Only a new election in the 9th Congressional District will restore the voters' faith in democratic elections."

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