Dowless remains in question; poll workers admit to improper counting at day 2 of NC09 hearing

The second day of the District 9 hearings concerning allegations of election fraud in the district’s congressional race wrapped up late Tuesday evening. 

The big testimony of the day focused on a political consulting firm that reportedly paid the man at the center of the ballot controversy-- Leslie McCrae Dowless. The firm is called Red Dome Consulting, and the founder, Andy Yates, took the stand at the hearing this afternoon.

Under oath, Yates told the Board he didn't know of the specifics of what Dowless was accused of until it was revealed yesterday, in day one of this hearing.

He was adamant about that, and told the Board what he would have reported it to the proper authorities if he knew what Dowless was accused of— namely directing workers to falsify witness on absentee ballots among other allegations. 

Dowless was hired to produce votes for Harris, but his methods last year included paying people to visit potential voters who had received absentee ballots and getting them to hand over those ballots, whether completed or not, Dowless' employee Lisa Britt testified Monday.

It’s illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter’s ballot because of the risk that it could be altered before being counted.

Britt testified she collected about three dozen sometimes unfinished ballots and handed them to Dowless, who kept them at his home and office for days or longer before they were turned in. Britt also said she would fill in down-ballot local races — favoring Republicans — to prevent local elections board workers from suspecting Dowless’ activities.

Dowless paid local people like her $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in Bladen and Robeson counties and turned in to him, State elections director Kim Strach said.

The operation’s scope allowed Dowless to collect nearly $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year’s general election, said Strach, adding that in addition to reviewing financial and phone records, investigators questioned 142 voters in the south-central North Carolina counties.

There was also another angle the hearing took today-- looking closely at the Bladen County Board of Elections.

They spoke with poll workers about how they did business during the election, and it appears there may have been improper counting of ballots there.

The workers admitted tallying results on the Saturday before Election Day when early, in-person voting ended, which is contrary to proper practice. The workers, Agnes Willis and Coy Mitchell Edwards, said that while they and others could see who had the early lead in Bladen County sheriff’s race, they didn’t tell anyone.

That testimony contradicted the account of another poll worker, Michele Maultsby, who said earlier Tuesday that she never saw anyone view the tape listing the voting results that Saturday. Willis must have made an honest mistake when she said people saw the early voting totals, Maultsby said.

Strach said investigators didn’t find evidence that anyone else was tipped off early about the vote totals, but the practice of early counting raises questions about the vulnerability of the county’s voting results.

The race, which was in November 2018, ultimately ended with Harris leading McCready by a 905-vote margin. However, votes were not certified due to the allegations of fraud. 

After the hearing ends, the state board will have to decide whether ballot fraud was unfortunate but tolerable, or whether to order a new election in the congressional district that runs from Charlotte through several counties to the east.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.