Mark Harris consultant says he was not aware of alleged ballot-tampering scheme

The chief consultant for Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisTrump tweets 'Total Endorsement' of NC GOP House candidate North Carolina state senator wins GOP primary in 9th District Dem candidate in contested North Carolina race refunds donation from Omar campaign MORE’s House campaign said Tuesday he was not aware that a hired political operative had allegedly paid workers to collect absentee ballots in North Carolina’s 9th District.

Andy Yates, the founder of the consulting firm Red Dome, said he was “shocked and disturbed” to learn of an alleged ballot-tampering scheme led by McCrae Dowless.

ADVERTISEMENT

Had he known of the scheme, Yates said, he would have fired the longtime operative immediately.

“I am deeply disturbed,” Yates said during the second day of a hearing held by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. “It would have been over the moment I had the first suspicion.”

Dowless, a longtime political operative in rural Bladen County, is accused of paying workers to collect absentee ballot request forms and absentee ballots in the election for North Carolina’s 9th District.

At an earlier hearing on Monday, state elections officials detailed an alleged plot by Dowless to pay workers $150 for every 50 absentee ballot request forms they collected and $125 for every 50 absentee ballots collected.

That alleged scheme has left the U.S. House race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready unresolved for months.

Harris currently leads McCready by 905 votes, but state election officials have refused to certify the GOP hopeful as the winner amid concerns of potential fraud.

Yates's comments came after Lisa Britt, Dowless’s ex-stepdaughter and one of the workers paid by the operative, told the elections board on Monday that she believed Yates was aware of the alleged scheme, though she noted that she was not “100 percent” certain.

Yates told elections officials Tuesday that Dowless had been hired to work on Harris’s campaign before him and that it wasn’t until either late June 2017 or early July 2017 that he met the operative.

In his remarks, Yates offered a detailed account of some of the inner workings of Harris’s campaign.

Red Dome, the consulting firm, was responsible not only for paying Dowless for his work, but the general campaign staff, Yates said.

A review by state elections officials showed that Red Dome paid Dowless $131,275 between July 3, 2017, and Nov. 7, 2018.

Yates also said he believed that Dowless’s role in the campaign was cemented by the time he began working for Harris in 2017.

“I felt like Mr. Dowless was a done deal before I was ever brought on the campaign,” Yates said.

Yates said Dowless had told him about his absentee ballot work early on in the campaign.

But the operative only ever portrayed his work as lawful, Yates said, recalling that Dowless told him that he never so much as touched any absentee ballots.

He said that no one on Harris’s campaign ever raised concerns that Dowless may have been breaking the law.

But Yates also acknowledged that when it came to reimbursing Dowless for expenses related to his campaign work, he never asked for invoices, receipts or any proof of the number of absentee ballot request forms being collected.

“We had no reason not to believe the information he was giving us, so we took it at face value,” Yates said.

Yates recalled that he would talk to Dowless frequently during the campaign and said he believed Harris spoke with him often, as well.

Yates said that after "significant allegations" emerged against Dowless, he stopped speaking with him.

It remains unclear what – or even if – Harris knew about the alleged ballot-tampering scheme.
 
Harris reportedly directed Dowless’s hiring to the campaign in the first place, though he has repeatedly said he was not aware of the operative’s alleged actions.

McCready and Democrats want the North Carolina State Board of Elections to call a new election in the 9th District, while Republicans are asking officials to certify Harris as the winner, arguing that not enough votes were affected in the alleged scheme to sway the outcome of the election.

But calling a new election isn’t likely to be a simply task.
 
At least four of the five members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections would have to vote to order a new election in the 9th District. The board is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans.