McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County elected official and political operative, paid workers to collect absentee ballots and return them to him before the 2016 election, witnesses told state board of election investigators, according to documents released Wednesday afternoon.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement released the documents as part of its investigation into mail-in absentee ballot and voting irregularities during the 2018 election in Bladen and Robeson counties. The board has declined to certify the results of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race as a result.
In 2018, Republican Mark Harris — the apparent winner of the 9th district election by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready — hired Dowless to work on absentee ballots and get-out-the-vote operations in Bladen County.
The 2016 investigation found “information strongly suggesting” that Dowless “was paying certain individuals to solicit absentee request forms and to collect absentee ballots from Bladen County voters. In doing so, workers employed by Dowless were required to hand-carry the ballots to Dowless in order to be paid,” the board wrote in a January 2018 summary of its 2016 investigations.
It is illegal, outside of very specific circumstances, to collect someone else’s absentee ballot.
The state board turned over three cases — two involving Dowless and one involving the Bladen County Improvement Association — to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to the summary.
A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon’s office declined to comment Wednesday.
Similar allegations have surfaced during the 2018 election.