Elections head says ballots handled illegally in 9th congressional district

Testimony started Monday in Raleigh in a hearing revolving around North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, and what decision the State Board of Elections will have to make regarding the 2018 race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.

The race, which was in November 2018, ultimately ended with Harris leading McCready by a 905-vote margin. However, allegations of election fraud, centering around one of the district's counties, Bladen County, and the resulting investigation, have kept the election from being certified.

State elections officials revealed some results of their investigation during Monday's hearing.  

Officials said there was a "coordinated...substantiated and unlawful effort in Bladen and Robeson counties", and that Harris campaign aide McCrae Dowless conducted an operation that was "a violation of the law", and--among other allegations, directed workers to falsify witness on absentee ballots.

Perhaps the day's biggest concentration and testimony centered on Lisa Britt, who worked for Dowless.  Britt is also Dowless's former step-daughter.

Britt testified under oath that she collected a number of unsealed ballots, signed for ballots she was not witness to, and even signed her mother's name as witness to ballots.

It’s illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter’s ballot.

Britt also testified that Dowless told her, and the group working on the District 9 campaign, "as long as we stick together, we'll be fine because they don't have anything on us." She added she was instructed to not admit to collecting ballots and to exercise her Fifth Amendment rights.

Testimony from Britt continued most of the morning and into the afternoon, and included questioning from attorneys for both McCready and Harris. Thirty-five witnesses total have been subpoenaed to be called, and the hearing is set to last two to three days.

Dowless and Harris attended Monday’s hearing. McCready did not.

Four of the five members on the elections board — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — would need to agree a new election is necessary.

If that doesn’t happen, McCready’s lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated — arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members.

The Associated Press contriuted to this report.