The North Carolina State Board of Elections released information and documents Wednesday that suggest McCrae Dowless ran an operation in the 2016 election much like the one he’s alleged to have run in the 2018 election — paying associates to collect absentee ballots from voters and “hand carry” them to Dowless.
The state board said it had provided the same evidence to state and federal prosecutors in both January 2017 and January 2018, but no action was taken.
The state board, which rarely releases such documents publicly outside of a court process, is looking into whether the alleged similar actions in the 2018 election affected the outcome of the uncalled House race in the Ninth District, where Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes.
According to an eight-page “summary memorandum,” information gathered through interviews by the state board’s investigators “strongly suggested” that Dowless hired associates to collect absentee ballots from voters in Bladen County during the 2016 election cycle. The ballots had to be returned directly to Dowless in order for his workers to get paid.
Dowless is at the center of the current investigation of illegal ballot harvesting that has now expanded from Bladen County to neighboring Robeson County. Dowless was hired by the Red Dome consulting group, which was working for Harris’ congressional campaign.
According to Josh Lawson, the state board’s general counsel, in January 2018 the board provided the same 279 pages of documents released today to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI for the Eastern District of North Carolina, as well as the Wake County District Attorney’s office.
One year earlier, in January 2017, Lawson said, the board had referred the same matters to the same entities for “prosecutorial review and possible criminal prosecution.” Lawson said he was not aware of any prosecutory action by prosecutors in 2017 or 2018.
The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to commnt. The FBI did not respond to a requests for comment. A call to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office was not answered late today. The Wake County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a previous request for comment about its current investigation into the matters.
“As we were approaching this coming hearing, we thought it was relevant and important information that should be publicly known,” Lawson told NBC News.
Dowless, through his attorney, Cynthia Adams Singletary, declined to appear for an interview with the elections board on or before Jan. 2, according to a letter dated Tuesday and released by the board. Lawson, the state board’s general counsel, requested the interview with Dowless in a letter dated Sunday that ordered him, “his agents, and assignees to preserve all records associated with elections and/or election-related activities between January 2016 and the present.”
The board will hold a hearing to present its evidence in its 2018 investigation on Jan. 11.