North Carolina House seat hangs in the balance over shady Republican absentee ballot scheme

The House race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which still hasn’t been certified by the state’s elections board, is looking more suspicious all the time. Republican Mark Harris has a narrow lead over Democrat Dan McCready, but there are big questions about that lead thanks to an absentee ballot-harvesting scheme led by a Republican campaign operative. The numbers are suspicious, the witness signatures on absentee ballot envelopes are suspicious, and people have come forward to say that their ballots were collected, unsealed, by strangers—strangers who we now know were paid by Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was working for the Harris campaign.

Questions have centered around suspicious absentee ballots:

In Bladen County, for example, only 19% of mail-in absentee ballots were requested by Republicans, but Harris won 61% of the mail-in absentee ballot vote. In every other county, including Republican strongholds like Union County, McCready won the mail-in absentee vote.

It’s not just about the absentee votes that were counted, either:

In Bladen, about 40% of the requested absentee ballots, or 495 ballots, were not returned. In Robeson, about 62%, or 1,180 ballots, were not returned. Both percentages are much higher than the district’s non-return rate, which was 24%.

When Popular Information’s Judd Legum obtained copies of 162 absentee ballot envelopes from Bladen County, he found that more than 130 of them had been signed by eight witnesses, rather than the usual assortment of family and friends you would expect 162 different absentee voters to have assembled as witnesses. Not only that, but two of them share the last name Dowless and two others were clearly working together, jointly witnessing almost 30 ballots.

Ginger Eason, who witnessed 31 ballots (in that group of 162 that’s public—possibly many more overall), told reporters that “I was helping McCrae pick up ballots,” for which she was paid between $75 and $100. That’s illegal: “North Carolina election law states only the voter or a near relative can hand in an absentee ballot.”

Wherever this ends up, it’s a potent reminder of how far Republicans will go to win.