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Bladen operative hired by Mark Harris says investigations will prove his innocence

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Election fraud investigation

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A Bladen County elected official and political operative denied breaking the law Tuesday in his first public statement since he was identified as a person of interest in a state investigation into possible election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

A lawyer for McCrae Dowless put out the statement.

“Mr. Dowless is a highly respected member of our community who is routinely sought after for his campaign expertise,” his lawyer, Cynthia Adams Singletary said in a statement released to The News & Observer and other media. “He has not violated any state or federal campaign laws and current ongoing investigations will prove the same. All speculation is premature and wholly unwarranted."

Dowless had not spoken publicly since allegations surfaced about voting irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson county. Republican Mark Harris, who won the general-election race by 905 votes in unofficial results, hired Dowless.

Harris has also denied breaking the law.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has refused to certify the results in the 9th district. It will hold a hearing on Jan. 11 to discuss the evidence its investigation has found. The board has issued subpoenas to the Harris campaign, consulting firm Red Dome Group, Dowless and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker’s campaign, which also employed Dowless.

Harris is not expected to be seated by the U.S. House when the new Congress opens on Jan. 3.

Dowless, 62, is a convicted felon who has become a go-to operator for politicians seeking votes in Bladen County.

In 2016, Dowless worked for Republican Todd Johnson’s campaign during the primary. Johnson finished third behind Rep. Robert Pittenger and Harris, but crushed the top finishers in mail-in absentee ballots from Bladen County.

Johnson received 221 of the 226 mail-in absentee ballots cast.

Those numbers caught Harris’ eye, he told WBTV in an interview last week.

“I remember looking at that and going, ‘Wow, that’s unusual,’” Harris told WBTV.

Harris said Judge Marion Warren, now the director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, lamented not introducing Dowless to Harris first in 2016.

“He said, ‘Man, I would have given anything if I could have introduced you to McCrae Dowless before Todd Johnson got to him,’” Harris told WBTV. “I said, ‘Well, who’s McCrae Dowless?’ And he told me that McCrae was a guy from Bladen County. He was a good ol’ boy that knew Bladen County politics, that he did things right and that he knew election law better than just about anyone he knew of.”

Warren, Bladen County Commissioner Ray Britt, Bladen County Republican Party chairman Walter McDuffie and businessman Pat Melvin attended a first meeting between Harris and Dowless, Harris said in the interview with WBTV.

In 2018, Harris said he hired Dowless for absentee ballots and get-out-the-vote operations.

“It was the same thing I assumed he had done to have the success he had in the past,” Harris told WBTV.

In the primary rematch against the incumbent Pittenger, Harris won 437 mail-in absentee ballots to 17 for Pittenger in Bladen County. In the general election against Democrat Dan McCready, Harris got 420 mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County to 258 for McCready.

Harris said Dowless also helped him get in front of voters in the county, including participation in various parades and social events.

“My client and his family respectfully ask for privacy during this holiday season and beyond,” said Singletary, Dowless’ lawyer. “Mr. Dowless and I look forward to addressing all questions and concerns in the proper forum.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.