The North Carolina state elections board is considering whether to call a new election or declare a winner in the state’s 9th District, where the general election last November was stained by allegations of fraud.
In a hearing that began Monday, state elections director Kim Strach said Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a political operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris, allegedly undertook “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” by paying local people in the state to collect unfinished mail-in ballots.
Stratch said that the state had interviewed more than 140 voters and 30 witnesses as part of their investigation, according to an NPR report.
It is illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a ballot in an effort in order to reduce the risk of that ballot being altered before being counted. But, as one woman, Lisa Britt, testified at the hearing Monday, Dowless allegedly paid people like her $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they could collect. According to the Associated Press, they would then allegedly hand those ballots over to Dowless.
In addition to filling in the congressional race for Harris, Britt testified Monday that she often filled in down-ballot races favoring Republicans in order to make the ballot look less suspicious. According to the AP, Dowless would then allegedly keep those ballots at his home or office for days before turning them in.
NPR also reported late Monday that Britt read a note Dowless had allegedly asked her to read at the hearing, which stated, “I can tell you that I haven’t done anything wrong in the election and McCrae Dowless has never told me to do anything wrong, and to my knowledge he has never done anything wrong. But I am taking the 5th Amendment because I don’t have an attorney and I feel like you will try to trip me up.”
Britt said, however, she believed she had done something wrong, though unknowingly. She did defend Harris, saying she believed he knew nothing about the operation.
“I think you’ve got one innocent person in this whole thing, who had no clue what was going on, and he’s the one getting a real bad deal here and that’s Mr. Mark Harris,” Britt said.
The board called for Dowless himself to testify Monday, but he refused. Dowless’s attorney reportedly said his client would only testify if he was offered immunity from prosecution. The board did not agree to the deal.
The elections board is currently made up of three Democrats and two Republicans. Four of the five members would need to agree in order to call a new election. They could reportedly make a decision about whether to hold a new election as early as Tuesday.