North Carolina man says GOP operative illegally collected his signed, blank absentee ballot in contested race

A North Carolina man says he is sure that a GOP operative filled out an empty absentee ballot he had signed after obtaining it in violation of state law.

Chris Eason, 47, of Bladenboro, N.C., told BuzzFeed News he believes that McCrae Dowless, a longtime North Carolina GOP operative who worked for incumbent GOP Rep. Mark HarrisMark HarrisDisputed North Carolina race exposes mail ballot flaws NC elections board postpones hearing over contested House race until January N.C. candidate directed hiring of aide despite warnings: report MORE in his reelection battle against Dan McCready (D), took his empty, signed absentee ballot and then turned it in with votes for GOP candidates.

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Obtaining another person's absentee ballot is illegal under North Carolina law — ballots can only be mailed directly by voters to state election officials. Yet Eason tells BuzzFeed that Dowless collected empty, signed absentee ballots from his house in 2018 and in past elections to turn in on his behalf, sometimes also offering him money to vote in person.

Eason says he refused those offers, but Dowless's alleged collection of the ballots would remain illegal nonetheless.

BuzzFeed also reports that Eason, who claims he has never actually voted for a candidate as a matter of principle, is recorded in state election logs as having cast votes for unspecified candidates in past elections in which he says Dowless handled his ballots.

Eason claims that Dowless filled out those votes himself, and that the GOP operative may have done the same with his 2018 ballot.

“That’s what I’m telling you — McCrae or whoever’s doing it, they checked them boxes, I didn’t,” Eason told Buzzfeed. “I’d take a lie detector test on that.”

His sister Ginger, who is recorded as a witness on Eason's 2018 ballot, says she witnessed his signature on the ballot, which she too attests did not contain votes. State election records confirm that a ballot was registered under Eason's name in 2018, but it isn't clear if any votes under his name were recorded this year.

“This information has been forwarded to our investigators,” a spokesman for the State Board of Elections told BuzzFeed when asked for comment.

Dowless has been implicated by at least two women who claim that he paid them to pick up absentee ballots ahead of the recent election. Harris currently has a slim lead over McCready.

Dowless has denied involvement in any illegal activity, and Harris's campaign has called for the state board of elections to certify the race while continuing its investigation.

"Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties. There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race," Harris tweeted last Friday.

"The State Board of Elections should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the Ninth District," he added.

Harris's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on Eason's claims. McCready, his Democratic opponent, withdrew his concession earlier Thursday amid calls in the state for a new election.