McCrae Dowless Won't Testify At NC-09 Hearing

Feb 19, 2019

McCrae Dowless, center, and his attorney, Cynthia Singletary, head into the State Board of Elections hearing into voting irregularities in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Dowless is accused of orchestrating an absentee ballot tampering operation for the campaign of Republican Mark Harris.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

The state elections board opened its hearing Monday into alleged ballot fraud in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District race. And how it went all depends on whom you ask.

"We saw that there is widespread evidence of a massive fraud scheme," said Marc Elias, who called Monday's testimony "breathtaking and disturbing."

Elias represents Democrat Dan McCready, who trails Republican Mark Harris by a little more than 900 votes in uncertified results.

Among the half dozen witnesses called Monday was Lisa Britt. She was once McCrae Dowless's step-daughter and said she remains close to him, calling him a father figure.

Dowless is the Bladen County political operative who worked for Republican Mark Harris's campaign and whose activities are at the heart of the elections board's investigation.

Britt testified that Dowless paid her and other workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters in Bladen and Robeson counties, even when the ballots had not been properly witnessed or completely filled out. The ballots would then be delivered to Dowless at his home office.

"You heard direct evidence of a scheme to deprive the voters of the 9th Congressional District of fair balloting and you heard that direct evidence winds up on the doorstep and the telephone of Republican candidate Mark Harris," said Elias.

Mark Harris listens to testimony Monday at the hearing into alleged vote tampering by a political operative hired by Harris's campaign in North Carolina's 9th congressional district. Harris, a Republican, leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in uncertified results.
Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Lisa Britt's mother, Sandra Dowless, also testified. She was once married to McCrae Dowless and had been staying at his home in the months leading up to the November 2018 mid-term elections. She testified that in September she overheard a telephone conversation between McCrae Dowless and Harris. In that conversation, McCrae Dowless allegedly told Harris that based on data he had seen at the county elections board, Harris was in good shape and well ahead of McCready.

According to a preview of the evidence collected by the elections board's investigators, the improprieties in the 9th district race include unlawful disclosure of early voting data from the county elections board. Another issue the elections board's investigation has focused on is lax security at the Bladen County Board of Elections, including labeled keys to a ballot room hanging on a wall in a common area.

"We've obviously learned some new things today, things that, um, completely contrary to what Dr. Harris had been told by McCrae Dowless and what McCrae Dowless's public statements have been," said Alex Dale, who represents Harris.

But Dale and other members of Harris's legal team say he's a victim, not a co-conspirator. They maintain Harris knew nothing of Dowless's efforts.

Dale also pointed to testimony from Lisa Britt indicating there was competing absentee ballot harvesting by a Democrat-supporting organization known as the Bladen Improvement PAC. If you threw out all the absentee ballots, Dale argued, the outcome of the race would be the same.

"A new election is only going to punish the voters of the 9th district. The people who need to be punished are the wrongdoers," he added.

In a dramatic moment towards the end of the day, state elections board executive director Kim Strach who is presenting the state's evidence to the board members, called McCrae Dowless to the stand. But the moment proved anti-climactic. That's because Dowless's attorney, Cynthia Singletary, said her client had no intention of testifying.

Dowless would have testified had the elections board compelled him to do so under a state law that provides immunity from prosecution for such compelled statements. With the State Bureau of Investigation looking into possible crimes in connection with the 9th district voting irregularities, board Chairman Bob Cordle was not willing to provide Dowless with such protection.