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McCrae Dowless, central figure in 9th District election probe, indicted

February 27, 2019

McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative who emerged as a central figure in the investigation into irregularities in the 9th Congressional District, was arrested and charged Wednesday with a series of felonies primarily related to his handling of absentee ballots in the 2016 general election and 2018 primary.

Dowless was charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of an absentee ballot. Four others – Caitlyn Croom, Matthew Mathis, Tonia Gordon and Rebecca Thompson – face charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of an absentee ballot, according to a press release from Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman’s Office.

Freeman has led the investigation into absentee ballot irregularities since last year, when Bladen County’s district attorney recused himself from the case forwarded by state elections investigators. She said Wednesday that her investigation was continuing and could expand into the 2018 general election.

The charges come just a week after the State Board of Elections voted to hold a new election in the 9th Congressional District after hearing testimony that Dowless employees took possession of absentee ballots in 2018. That’s a felony in North Carolina.

Republican Mark Harris, who hired Dowless for get-out-the-vote operations in Bladen and Robeson counties in 2018, led Democratic opponent Dan McCready by 905 votes in that race, according to unofficial results. But the State Board of Elections refused to certify those results pending an investigation into Dowless’ activities dating back to 2016.

Dowless refused to testify at the the State Board of Elections hearing last week. But some of his employees did, admitting under oath that he paid them to collect ballots. Lisa Britt, who signed dozens of absentee ballots as a witness in 2018, also told elections officials that Dowless had given her a note telling her what to say at the hearing.

Harris took the stand Thursday to himself call for a new election, telling board members that he had seen enough evidence during the four previous days of testimony to call into question the integrity of the November 2018 contest.

But the charging documents unsealed Wednesday are largely concerned with the activities of Dowless – and the people he allegedly paid to operate in Bladen and Robeson counties – in the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary.

The indictment accuses Dowless of taking ballots from at least eight people in 2016. And it indicates he took into his possession at least three ballots in 2018.

In October 2016, the charging document says, he gave investigators false information and coached Mathis and Croom to do the same.

Mathis and Croom had already been named in a January 2018 investigation summary from the State Board of Elections. They told elections investigators that Dowless paid them to collect ballots from voters in Bladen County.

Mathis was also charged with falsely signing the voter certification on an absentee ballot.

A Wake County judge set Dowless’ secured bond at $30,000 and ordered him to have no contact with anyone named in the documents. As of about noon Tuesday, according to Freeman, Dowless was being transported by authorities to Wake County.

A woman who answered the phone at the office of his lawyer, Cynthia Adams Singletary, said she wasn’t available and had no comment on the arrest before hanging up on a reporter.

State Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Bladen, who employed Dowless to run an absentee-vote operation in 2016 when Johnson was running for Congress, could not be reached for comment.

Harris has said he decided to hire Dowless because of the work he did for Johnson. In the 2016 congressional primary, Johnson received 221 of the 226 mail-in votes cast in Bladen County.

WRAL News reached out to Johnson by phone, text and email, and contacted his legislative assistant, Joey Stansbury, who said Johnson will not talk about the 9th District. Johnson was scheduled to appear at a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday morning, but did not show up.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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