At the extreme end of remedies, the NCSBE could even order a do-over election. That’s never happened in a congressional race in North Carolina before, though the board has occasionally ordered new elections in municipal races, to remedy either fraud or errors by election officials. The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday called for a new election. The U.S. House, which will be controlled by Democrats in the new Congress, could also refuse to seat Harris. Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the incoming majority leader, said Tuesday that Harris shouldn’t be seated until concerns about fraud are resolved.
Dowless is no stranger to legal scrutiny. He has been convicted of fraud, perjury, and passing bad checks; in one case, he was accused of forging insurance documents to collect a life-insurance policy on a former employee. Since entering politics, he’s frequently worked at getting the vote out for various candidates; in the 2016 primary, he worked for a candidate running against Harris and Pittenger. Although that candidate lost, he far outpaced both men in Bladen County. According to an affidavit obtained by WSOC, Dowless stood to make $40,000 if Harris won the general election. Dowless did not return a request for comment.
Bladen County has a reputation for lawlessness among North Carolina politicos, and there have been at least five election investigations in the county since 2010. In an interview with Spectrum News last week, Pittenger was asked about the fraud allegations. “There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them,” he said, grinning.
Asked about the NC Election Board’s decision to delay certifying the #NC09 results, Rep. Pittenger says: “There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them.”#ncpol @SpecNewsRDU pic.twitter.com/WmZQMqQKWN
— Kevin Frey (@KevinFreyTV) November 29, 2018
Gary Bartlett, who was executive director of the NCSBE from 1993 to 2013, told me the board had looked into possible fraud in Bladen County during his tenure, including scrutinizing Dowless.
“There have been two groups, and the most prominent one is the one that has been in the newspaper lately—he has always been at the forefront,” Barlett said. He said teams would target elderly, poor, and otherwise vulnerable voters who weren’t aware of the law. “They will request a mail ballot. Then they go and ask to help them vote the ballot. Then they will suggest to vote for someone, or they say, ‘We will turn it in for you, and you don’t have to worry about a stamp.’ Then they take the remainder of the ballot and mark it as they wish.”
Bartlett said he’d turned information about potential violations of the law over to the local district attorney, and that he didn’t believe the fraud had swayed the outcome of any elections during his tenure. The News & Observer in Raleigh reports that state investigators are now investigating ballots in neighboring Robeson County, too. The board has previously found fraud in Pembroke, a town in Robeson County.
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