RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Several requests for mail-in ballots were forged in the North Carolina county where fraud allegations have forestalled the declaration of a winner in the nation’s last undecided congressional race, a local elections official said in a sworn affidavit released Friday.
Three of 165 absentee ballot request forms dropped off ahead of November’s general election were forged, Bladen County Elections Board Chairman Bobby Ludlum said in the affidavit, which was released by an attorney for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’s campaign. The collection of absentee requests was delivered by a woman the Republican election official didn’t name.
“One of the three was for a relative of mine who told me that two women had asked if he wanted to request a form. He said no,” the affidavit said.
Ludlum’s statement confirms part of an earlier affidavit by Jens Lutz, a Democrat who was the county elections board’s vice chairman before resigning abruptly last month.
Both a subcontractor working last fall for Harris and a black empowerment group supporting Democrats submitted clusters of absentee ballot requests, a legal practice.
Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready for the 9th Congressional District. A winner hasn’t been declared pending investigations into an unusually large number of absentee ballots that were requested and never returned, as well as the large advantage Harris has among absentee votes in two of the district’s rural counties, Bladen and Robeson.
The forged ballots were reported to the state elections board staff, who instructed Bladen County elections workers to mail absentee ballots to all but the three people whose names were forged, Ludlum said.
Ludlum also denied telling county Democratic Party Chairman Ben Snyder that Leslie McCrae Dowless, the local political operative working for Harris who is named as a target of the state investigation, discarded absentee ballots.
“I am not aware of anyone in Bladen County ever throwing ballots in the trash or stating that they have thrown absentee ballots or any type of ballot in the trash,” Ludlum said.
Voters have said in other affidavits that Dowless or people working for him collected ballots that were blank, incomplete or stuffed in unsealed envelopes.
Ludlum disputed other claims by Lutz that local elections workers were lax about protecting the security of completed absentee ballots. Ludlum, Lutz and the county elections board’s two other members voted unanimously last year that an unlocked door between the ballot storage room and another government office should be secured and an alarm and security cameras installed.
County officials refused to spend the money, however. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which assessed the site shortly before this year’s election, said in a report obtained by The Associated Press that the unlocked door made voting materials vulnerable.
Ludlum also disputed Lutz’s claim that Dowless enjoyed close relationships to key local elections workers, and that they allowed him to copy ballot request forms complete with voter’s signatures and social security and driver’s license numbers. Lutz said those details could give Dowless the ability to request mail-in ballots for anyone who has ever voted that way in recent years.
Neither Dowless “nor any other unauthorized person was allowed to take and copy un-redacted absentee ballot request forms with confidential information on them,” Ludlum’s statement said. “Dowless was not given greater access to absentee ballot or other information than was given to other citizens.”
Ludlum’s lawyers on Friday refused to confirm news reports that he and Dowless are cousins.