Politics & Government

Operative under investigation had 800 absentee ballots before primary, affidavit says

McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County elected official and paid political operative, had more than 800 absentee ballots in his possession before the May Republican primary, according to a new affidavit.

Dowless is a person of interest in the state board’s investigation into voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Republican Mark Harris, whose consulting firm paid Dowless for absentee ballot work in the county, won the Republican primary against incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger by 828 votes. Harris received 437 mail-in absentee votes in Bladen County to 17 for Pittenger.

Kenneth Simmons, a registered Republican in Bladen County, said he was at a campaign event with his wife for a challenger in the sheriff’s race.

“While we were in Dublin attending a meeting of Republicans, we spoke with McCrae Dowless,” said Simmons in the affidavit, notarized in Robeson County. “During the conversation, we noticed that Mr. Dowless had in his possession a large number of absentee ballots. ... .He stated he had over 800 ballots in his possession.”

When he asked Dowless why he hadn’t turned in the ballots, Simmons said Dowless told him: “You don’t do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up.”

“My concern was that these ballots were not going to be turned in,” said Simmons.

The affidavit was first reported by WECT and released to the Observer by the NC Democratic Party.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Simmons confirmed his account, but declined to comment further.

“I don’t know nothing else,” he said. “It’s just exactly what’s on there. ... My wife was sitting in there and heard what they said, too.”

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is investigating mail-in absentee ballot irregularities and allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties. The nine-member board has twice declined to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris was the apparent winner in November, collecting 905 more votes than McCready.

“I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing,” Harris said in a video statement last week.

A photo, taken at the Politicians Appreciation Day event in Bladen County in March shows Dowless and Harris posing together. The picture was posted on social media by another attendee of the event on March 25, one day after the event. The photo was first reported by WSOC.

Harris is listed as a guest speaker at the event, which is billed as “an event to show gratitude to the community for their support.” Dowless is the event’s co-organizer. It is held every other year and attracted dozens of candidates this year.

Neither Pittenger nor McCready were listed among attendees.

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