New board gets private preview of Congressional race probe
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A reconstituted North Carolina elections board received a private preview Thursday of what investigators uncovered in their probe of absentee ballot irregularities in the country’s last unresolved congressional race.
Chairman Bob Cordle said the new five-member State Board of Elections received a “full briefing” on findings in the 9th Congressional District race. The members met behind closed doors with attorneys and investigators for nearly four hours.
Cordle said the findings will be released publicly at a hearing Feb. 18. He said the board will vote at the hearing’s close on whether to certify the 9th District results, order a new election or take some other step.
Unofficial results show Republican Mark Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. A previous iteration of the board refused to certify Harris as the winner due to the potential absentee ballot fraud. Four of the five members on the board — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — would need to agree a new election is necessary.
Attorneys for Harris and his campaign committee also asked the board this week to issue subpoenas compelling 20 different witnesses to attend the hearing and give testimony. Those being sought include McCready, a political operative named McCrae Dowless, and more than 10 people whose testimony about their voting experiences in the 9th District was submitted previously in affidavits.
Dowless worked for Harris’ campaign at the candidate’s insistence. More than a dozen witnesses signed affidavits alleging that Dowless or people working for him collected incomplete and unsealed ballots from voters. It is illegal for anyone other than a close relative or guardian to take a person’s ballot.
McCready’s lawyers already requested subpoenas in late December for Dowless and Harris — two of the four dozen witnesses they requested to appear at the upcoming hearing.
Harris, who believes he should be declared the winner, has said in interviews he wasn’t aware of issues involving alleged “ballot harvesting” tactics by Dowless, and that Dowless had come recommended by people in Bladen County.
In the letter released late Thursday by the state board, Harris’ lawyers also asked that the leader of the political consulting company that actually hired Dowless for Harris’ campaign also be subpoenaed. McCready also has that strategist — Red Dome Group founder Andy Yates — on his list.
Harris attorney Alexander Dale wrote that the subpoena list includes many people who did nothing wrong because Harris and the campaign “want any cloud hanging over this election to be lifted by a full public disclosure of facts about the 2018 general election.”
McCready and other Democrats have accused Harris of knowing about the absentee ballot fraud by his campaign’s helpers or ignoring it in order to win.
Harris also wants the board’s investigative report made public by late next week — before the hearing, which could last two or three days.
Whatever decision the board makes could be superseded by the U.S. House, where Democrats in the charge of the chamber have suggested they may review the election no matter what action the state board takes. The U.S. Constitution says the House is the judge of the elections and qualifications of its members.