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Hearing On NC-09 Voting Irregularities Features Fiery Testimony

Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

The state election board's hearing into possible vote tampering in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District race featured some explosive testimony Tuesday.

The star witness was Andy Yates, who founded political his political consultancy, Red Dome Group, in 2013.

Republican Mark Harris hired the Charlotte-area firm in 2017 to oversee his campaign for the 9th District congressional seat.

Yates provided expertise in direct mail, robocalls, and other forms of communication. He did not specialize in direct voter contact, like getting out absentee-by-mail votes. For that, the Harris campaign had already hired Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless.

Yates testified Dowless came highly recommended by well-respected people, such as former district court judge Marion Warren who was until recently the director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

"He sounded like somebody who knew the law very well, he sounded like somebody who knew his county very well, who had kept good records, was well organized, knew who was likely to request absentee ballots in his county," Yates said, referring to Dowless.

Yates used about $130,000 of the Harris campaign's $2 million war chest to finance Dowless's efforts.
McCrae Dowless's former stepdaughter testified this week that Dowless paid her and other workers to illegally collect absentee ballots, at times incomplete, unsealed and not properly witnessed, and then deliver them to him.

Andy Yates was emphatic in his testimony on Tuesday that he had no idea Dowless was engaged in such conduct.

"I worked too hard to build my business to let one person lie to  me and do something wrong that they specifically told me they weren't doing and ruin me and ruin my business," Yates said.

Yates said Dowless told him he never mishandled ballots and instructed his workers never to do so. The same applies to GOP candidate Mark Harris, according to his attorney, Alex Dale.

"What we've learned today is that both Andy Yates and Dr. Harris were told by McCrae Dowless that everything he was doing was legal," Dale told reporters after Tuesday's testimony.

Dale said Harris has nothing to hide and would definitely testify at the board hearing.

But attorney Marc Elias, who represents Democrat Dan McCready, scoffed at the idea that Harris knew nothing about Dowless's tactics. McCready trails Harris by 905 votes in the disputed, and uncertified, 9th District race.

"When the state board is done hearing all of the evidence it will be clear to them as it is clear to any fair-minded North Carolinian that the results of this election were irretrievably tainted by fraud and deceit and cheating," Elias said.

For his part, McCrae Dowless has refused to testify without legal immunity.

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