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Political operative arrested in ballot fraud scheme that disrupted N.C. election

By Danielle Haynes

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Authorities in North Carolina arrested a political operative Wednesday over accusations he orchestrated a mail-in ballot fraud scheme that led elections officials to order a new vote in the 9th District.

McCrae Dowless was indicted on three felony counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of an absentee ballot.

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Republican House candidate Mark Harris hired Dowless to organize a voting initiative in Bladen and Robeson counties last year. The Wake County district attorney's office accused Dowless of illegally taking mail-in ballots from voters during the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary.

John Harris, Mark Harris' son, told the North Carolina State Board of Elections last week he warned his father that Dowless' actions seemed illegal.

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John Harris said he first raised concerns during a 2016 primary race in which Mark Harris finished second and the third-place finisher received 221 of 226 mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County. When Mark Harris met with Dowless about running an absentee ballot program in two counties, John Harris said he warned his parents of potential legal ramifications. He said his father assured him Dowless operated legally.

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John Harris provided officials with email exchanges with his father about Dowless' practices in the 2016 race for another candidate -- messages that acknowledged it's a felony to mail someone else's ballot, even if they're placed in the voters' own mailboxes. He said his father assured him the work being done was legal.

"Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No, I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right," he said.

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Multiple witnesses testified that Dowless paid them to collect ballots and filled out some himself, which would be a felony.

Andy Yates, chief consultant for the Harris campaign, said Dowless was paid more than $131,000 during the campaign to collect mail-in absentee ballot requests, for general expenses and as a monthly fee.

In addition to Dowless, four other people face charges related to the scheme.

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On Feb. 21, the North Carolina State Board of Elections ordered a new election after refusing to certify November results in the 9th District that showed Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

Mark Harris announced Tuesday he would not run in the new race, citing health concerns.

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