Absentee Voters Given ‘Unprecedented’ Pre-Election Warning In County Of Fraud Probe

Republican NC-9th District Congressional candidate Mark Harris answers questions at a news conference at the Matthews Town Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Matthews, N.C. Harris declared victory over Democrat Dan McCready early Wednesday morning and McCready later conceded. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

Voters who requested mail-in ballots in the county that is now ground zero of a North Carolina election fraud investigation received mailers from election officials in the days before the election reminding them of the proper procedures for absentee ballots.

The mailer, titled “Absentee Voters: Know Your Rights,” informed voters that only the voters themselves or their close relatives could turn in mail-in ballots. It also gave them a number to call if someone else turned in their ballots, as well as for if someone else filled out their ballot or if they wanted to check on their ballot’s status.

“Elections officials will never come to your house to pick up your absentee ballot or tell you how to vote,” the mailer says in all caps. Absentee ballot recipients in the county have told reporters that they were approached by people who they thought were election officials offering to turn in their ballots.

A lawyer for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is investigating the election fraud allegations in the House race in North Carolina’s 9th District, would not say specifically what drove the board to send the mailers, which only went to absentee voter applicants in Bladen County and were sent between¬†October 29 and November 2.

The lawyer, Joshua Lawson, did tell TPM that the mailer was not “in the normal course of our process” and that it was “to our knowledge, unprecedented.”

The mailer was posted Tuesday by the elections board in a online portal it created for evidence it is making public as part of its investigation.

The investigation appears to be focused on a local operative,¬†Leslie McCrae Dowless, who, according to other documents posted by the board, turned in hundreds of absentee ballots. Dowless was paid by the Mark Harris campaign as a contractor hired by the campaign’s top consulting firm, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Harris, the Republican candidate in the congressional race, won in the unofficial count by less 1,000 votes. The state board has declined to certify the election and will hold a hearing later this month on its investigation. It is possible that the board will call for a new election in the race, where Harris is facing Democrat Dan McCready.

Among the irregularities that has attracted scrutiny is that Harris won 61 percent of the Bladen County’s absentee votes, even as registered Republicans made up only 19 percent of those voters whose mail-in ballots were accepted.

During his primary against incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R), Harris won 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen County; in the county overall he won with 69 percent of the vote.

In 2016, Dowless was reportedly worked for the primary campaign of Todd Johnson, who was also challenging Pittenger. Johnson finished third in the race, but won 221 of 226 mail-in ballots accepted in the district.

See the mailer below:

Corrected: This story mistakenly said that 19 registered Republicans voted absentee in Bladen County. Nineteen percent of mail-in ballots cast in Bladen County were from registered Republicans. We regret that error.

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