Photo shows Mark Harris and man at center of election fraud investigation together

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new photo obtained by Channel 9 is adding to the complex and ever-evolving story of the 9th Congressional District election fraud investigation.

The State Board of Elections has refused to certify Mark Harris the winner over Dan McCready amid claims of voting irregularities and other alleged fraudulent activities.

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Much of the investigation comes back to McCrae Dowless. According to two women Channel 9 spoke with, Dowless paid them and others to illegally collect ballots and encourage undecided voters to vote for Mark Harris.

[READ MORE: NC GOP leader calls for new 9th District election if early voting numbers were leaked]

While politicians are known to take a lot of pictures with people, the connection between Harris and Dowless is more than a photograph.

The photo obtained by Channel 9 was taken at a political event in Bladen County in March 2018. The person who took the photo has asked to not be identified.

Harris' connection to Dowless was in place before the photo was taken.

Former 2017 Charlotte City Council candidate Pete Givens told Channel 9 Mark Harris introduced him to Dowless.

Records show Givens paid Dowless $800 for consulting fees.

"Mark told me about this guy's process of, you know, that he had a process, he didn't know what it was, and he was going down to meet because he said 'maybe this is something you want to do,'" Givens said.

McCrae Dowless worked for the Harris campaign through a political consulting firm called Red Dome.

>>Follow political reporter Joe Bruno on Twitter for the latest developments in this investigation

Last week, Channel 9 obtained an FEC report showing the Harris campaign owes Red Dome more than $34,000, and one of the reasons is for reimbursement for Bladen County absentee.

Two weeks ago, Channel 9 reported on six affidavits submitted to the NCSBE. One of the affidavits submitted said Dowless was doing "absentee for Harris."

What was Dowless doing in Bladen County?

As Channel 9 reported, two women said they were paid by Dowless to pick up absentee ballots.

That practice is illegal in North Carolina.

Not only were they picking up ballots, they said they were told to promote Mark Harris and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker. Campaign finance reports show McVicker hired Dowless as well.

"He said kind of boost them whenever you're talking to people," one of those women, Cheryl Kinlaw said.

"McVicker and Harris and all them," Ginger Eason, another who said she picked up absentee ballots, said. "That's who he was working for."

The question now is: “What did Mark Harris know and when did he know it?”

Last week, he denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.

"The integrity of our electoral process is the heart of our democracy and we must protect it," Harris said.

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As calls for a new election grow, the state Republican Party is standing by the candidate.

"We have seen nothing that makes us think Mark Harris participated or would condone this behavior," Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse did not respond to a text Tuesday containing the picture of Harris and Dowless.

The North Carolina GOP is calling for a new election if early voting information was leaked by elections officials.

An affidavit from a poll worker claims the tape showing the early voting elections results were run and witnessed by people who were not judges.

Republicans in Raleigh originally expressed interest in adding a provision to an elections bill requiring a new primary if a new election is ordered by the NCSBE.

Lawmakers stripped that requirement from the bill.

As it stands, if the State Board of Elections orders a new election, it will be a rematch between Harris, McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott.

There would have to be a bill that would require there to be a new primary if an election is ordered by the state board.

Federal law mandates 45 days for absentee voting.

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