“Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman confirmed Monday that her office has had an active criminal investigation into ‘potential voting irregularities’ in Bladen County since early this year. The investigation began with allegations about 2016 voting but now incorporates the allegations raised in the 2018 primary and general election,” which the state Board of Elections has twice declined the certify over “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots.” (Raleigh News and Observer)
The man at the center of the scandal, Leslie McCrae Dowless, an “independent contractor” for pastor Mark Harris (R), “was convicted of felony fraud in 1992 in Iredell County, according to court records. Dowless and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death, according to a 1991 Fayetteville Observer article. He served more than six months of a two-year prison sentence, according to court records.” (Charlotte Observer)
Harris beat Marine veteran Dan McCready (D) by 905 votes. “On Monday, the board issued a subpoena to the Harris campaign, according to campaign attorney John Branch. The board is expected to issue one soon to Red Dome Group, a GOP consulting firm based in the suburbs of Charlotte that hired Dowless, according to two people familiar with the probe. The elections board has collected information suggesting that high-level officials in the campaign may have been aware of Dowless’s activities, according to the two people.”
Dowless “oversaw a crew of workers who collected absentee ballots from voters and updated the Harris campaign on the numbers, according to Jeff Smith, who is the building’s owner and a former Dowless friend.” Investigators “are examining whether Dowless’s activities then and in the general election violated North Carolina’s election laws, which allow only individual voters or designated close relatives to mail a ballot.” (Washington Post)
"So what happened? The envelopes of the absentee ballots are a rich source of information because they require not only the signature of the voter but the signature of two witnesses. ... Typically, there would be a wide variety of witnesses for absentee ballots. A random assortment of voters chose to vote by mail-in absentee and then have family, friends or co-workers serve as witnesses. The ballots obtained by Popular Information, however, show that a small group of people served as witnesses for these Bladen County ballots. Some of the witnesses signed more than 40 absentee envelopes. Several of the witnesses are related to" Dowless. "In all, a group of just eight witnesses appear on over 130 of the 162 absentee ballot envelopes obtained by Popular Information." (Popular Information)
One of these witnesses, Ginger Eason, admitted to "helping McCrae pick up ballots." She said Dowless "paid her $75 to $100 a week to go around and pick up finished absentee ballots. ... Eason said she never discarded ballots or saw who people were voting for, but after picking them up, she didn’t mail them. She said she gave them to Dowless. She said Dowless never told her what she was doing was illegal."
Asked by a reporter if he paid people to pick up ballots, Dowless said: “At this time, I have no comment. Have a great day." (WSOC)