FBI investigating N.C. election fraud: Were votes counted before Election Day?

Even North Carolina Republicans now admit a new election may be necessary in district plagued with fraud charges

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published December 11, 2018 5:15PM (EST)

 Election Workers count early vote ballots at The Broward County Supervisor Of Elections Office during the Florida Recount on November 13, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida (mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX)
Election Workers count early vote ballots at The Broward County Supervisor Of Elections Office during the Florida Recount on November 13, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida (mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX)

The FBI has joined the investigation into apparent election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told CNN that the FBI is assisting her office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation as they probe criminal allegations against Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a political operative who worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris. In the initial count, Harris apparently won the 9th district race over Democrat Dan McCready by a margin of just over 900 votes. But the state’s election board voted not to certify the results over glaring irregularities.

Investigators are looking at whether some absentee ballots were altered by people working for Dowless, or if those people failed to turn in some completed ballots.

Two women have come forward to admit they were paid by Dowless to illegally collect voters’ mail-in absentee ballots.

Dowless was paid for his work by the Red Dome Group, a firm founded by top Harris strategist Andy Yates that was paid over $400,000 by the Harris campaign.

State investigators have issued subpoenas for documents from Harris’ campaign, Red Dome, and the James Atlas McVicker Committee, a sheriff’s campaign that Dowless also worked for that also saw absentee ballot irregularities.

Harris won the absentee ballots in Bladen County with over 60 percent of the vote, even though he did not win the absentee vote in any other county. More than 3,000 ballots in Bladen County and nearby Robeson County were requested and not send back. Freeman told CNN that more than 1,000 ballots may have been destroyed in the illicit operation.

Dowless has a long history of “irregularities” in races on which he’s worked. In Harris’ Republican primary race against incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger earlier this year, Harris won 96 percent of mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County. Harris won that primary by 828 votes. In 2016, Dowless worked for another Republican candidate, Todd Johnson, who ran in the primary against both Harris and Pittenger. Johnson received 98 percent of absentee-by-mail votes from Bladen County.

On Monday, a new wrinkle was added to the mounting evidence of “irregularities” in the county. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that election workers in Bladen County tallied the results of early voting days before Election Day and may have leaked the results to outsiders, in violation of state laws. According to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, the county’s only early voting location tallied its results on Nov. 3, three days before Election Day.

“On Saturday, 11/3/18, the last day of early voting, the ‘tape’ showing election results at the one-stop polling site was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges. It is my understanding that this was improper,” precinct worker Agnes Willis wrote in a sworn statement.

McCready accused the officials of “leaking” the information to officials who were not authorized to see the results.

“The Bladen County Board of Elections may have leaked early vote information to people who weren’t supposed to see it,” McCready said Monday on MSNBC. “That’s information that is strategic to a campaign, that is an important factor in how a campaign spends resources, all that sort of thing.”

As evidence of fraud continues to mount, Republicans who had accused the elections board of a partisan ploy to change the results of the election are now conceding that there may need to be a new election.

Harris himself said in a video posted to Twitter that he supports a new election if there is evidence of fraud.

"I'm hopeful that this process will ultimately result in the certification of my election to Congress before the next House session begins," Harris said. "However, if this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election then I will wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results."

According to Federal Election Commission records, Harris still owes Red Dome more than $34,000 for “Bladen absentee, early voting poll workers; reimbursement door to door.”

According to an affidavit submitted to investigators, a witness said that he overheard that Dowless would be paid $40,000 cash if Harris won the election.

Earlier this month, McCready withdrew his concession.

"I didn't serve overseas in the Marines to come home to NC and watch a criminal, bankrolled by my opponent, take away people's very right to vote," McCready said in a tweet. "Today I withdraw my concession and call on Mark Harris to end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew, and when."


By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh