BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. — Channel 9 obtained more than 200 pages of new documents Wednesday from the North Carolina State Board of Elections investigating the Bladen County electioneer at the center of the U.S House District 9 investigation.
[SPECIAL SECTION: District 9 investigation]
North Carolina officials sought criminal charges after the 2016 election against McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of absentee ballot fraud allegations, but prosecutors didn't indict him before the now disputed 2018 congressional race, according to documents released Wednesday.
The documents detail findings from a 2016 investigation in which Dowless worked for a third candidate running against incumbent Robert Pittenger and challenger Mark Harris.
The documents have multiple written statements saying Dowless paid people to collect absentee ballots and then return them to him, which is illegal. Those are very similar accusations to the allegations that have surfaced in this year's U.S. House District 9 election.
In a January 2018 memo referring Dowless and others for criminal charges, state elections investigators detailed interviews in which people who had worked for Dowless in the 2016 election cycle described collecting absentee ballots from voters. Because of the potential for mischief, it is against North Carolina law for anyone other than a voter or immediate relative to handle someone's absentee ballot before it is sealed and mailed.
In one interview, two ballot collectors told investigators, "Dowless told them that he would only pay half of what they earned when they brought the absentee ballot request forms to him and would not pay the remainder until after they collected and provided Dowless with the voters' ballots as proof that the person had voted."
The documents also say Dowless tried to obstruct a Board of Elections investigation in that election by instructing his hired hands on what to say to state investigators.
[RELATED: Gov. Cooper sits down with Channel 9 about District 9 election fraud investigation]
One of those documents reads,"Dowless called them on their cellphone to warn them that there was an investigation and coached them as to what they should say if contacted by investigators with the State Board."
The documents show not only was the state investigating Dowless for this issue two years ago, but the U.S. attorney’s office was also notified about the investigation.
[RELATED: Who is McCrae Dowless, man who appears to be center of 9th District investigation?]
One of the documents from the 2016 investigation involved an interview with a voter named Linda Baldwin, who said a ballot collector "insisted on taking her ballots, because he needed to show them to his ‘boss’ in order to get credit for them and be paid."
Baldwin spoke at a town hall meeting that Channel 9 covered Tuesday night, concerned about this recent election.
“I'm standing tonight so my children, my great-grandchildren, my grandchildren so forth and so on may have the opportunity to vote and their votes will count,” Baldwin said.
Another document is a handwritten account from one of those ballot collectors, who said he witnessed at least one ballot was forged and he knew the forgery was wrong.
As for the impact on the current District 9 investigation, the Board of Elections will look at that evidence as part of its hearing and inquiry into the race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
Political science professor Michael Bitzer told Channel 9 that the new documents raise more questions about the validity of Dowless' work.
Dowless worked Harris' campaign.
Harris won the seat by 905 votes, but the board has refused to certify the race because of the investigation into Dowless.
Harris contends he did not know of any wrongdoing.
“I would have to believe some kind of suspicions were present at least in 2016, if not, definitely after the 2018 primary,” Bitzer said. “Something had to be known between those two dates.”
Also late Wednesday afternoon, Channel 9 obtained an exchange between Dowless’ attorney and the State Board of Elections. The board asked Dowless to interview with investigators by Jan. 2, 2019, but Dowless declined that interview.
There’s a hearing scheduled for Jan. 11, 2019.
Both the 2016 and 2018 races are also part of an active criminal investigation.
An email Channel 9 obtained shows Dowless is now refusing to answer any of the investigators’ questions.
Channel 9 contacted Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County district attorney, about the separate criminal investigation into 2016 as well as this year's primary and general elections.
Freeman said that investigation is ongoing.
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