Affidavit: Man at center of 9th District investigation had hundreds of ballots

Former sheriff's deputy says he and his wife saw the man at the center of 9th District controversy with 800 absentee ballots.

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Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — A Saint Pauls man swore Tuesday that he saw the man at the heart of an investigation that may force a new congressional election with more than 800 absentee ballots.
Kenneth Simmons said in a signed affidavit that he and his wife saw McCrae Dowless with the trove of ballots, which would be a felony. Simmons signed the affidavit Tuesday in front of a reporter for WECT News, the station reported, and WECT was the among the first to report the development.

Simmons' statement follows:

"During the campaign, my wife and I were working putting out signs for a local candidate. While we were in Dublin attending a meeting of Republicans, we spoke with McRae (sic) Dowless. During the conversation, we noticed that Mr. Dowless had in his possession a large number of absentee ballots. I questioned his reason for having that many ballots. He stated that he had over 800 ballots in his possession. I asked him why he had not turned them in. He sated (sic) you don't do that until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up. My concern was that these ballots were not going to be turned in."

The affidavit was notarized. An attorney for the North Carolina Democratic Party provided WRAL News with a copy and said it was collected by a party volunteer.

Dowless did not return a phone message Tuesday evening, and he has declined a number of interview requests since the state's investigation began. The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement officially named him a "person of interest" Friday in its investigation of 9th District results, and it had previously confirmed subpoenas in its investigation for Mark Harris' campaign and for Red Dome Group, the consultant that hired Dowless.

Harris, a Republican, seemed to beat Democrat Dan McCready in this race by 905 votes, but the State Board declined to certify those results after questions of ballot fraud rolled in. The scene Simmons described in his affidavit seems to have come before the primary in this race. That election was certified by the state, but the absentee ballot results in Bladen County tilted massively to Harris, who won 96 percent of them in an otherwise close race against Congressman Robert Pittenger.

Attempts to reach Simmons have not been successful. He is a former sheriff's deputy in Bladen County and a registered Republican who has voted in both Republican and Democratic primaries in recent years, according to state voting records. His wife, Kelly, is also a registered Republican.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Simmons attended a campaign meeting ahead of the May 8 primaries for Billy Ward, who ran for Bladen County sheriff in the county's Republican primary this year. Sheriff Jim McVicker defeated Ward by a wide margin in that primary, then went on to win the general election.

McVicker's campaign has been subpoenaed in the state's investigation, and Dowless worked for the McVicker campaign as well as Harris'.

The Simmonses told The Times that Dowless spoke to them during the meeting while holding a thick packet of documents they could not see up close. They told The Times that Dowless boasted he had 800 or 900 signed and completed absentee ballots in his possession.

Some in North Carolina politics have suggested that perhaps these were not absentee ballots, but ballot request forms voters send in to have mail-in ballots sent to them. It would be unusual for someone to have so many of those forms, but not illegal. In his affidavit, Kenneth Simmons repeatedly says they were ballots, but he also told The times he was not well versed in state election laws.

Dowless has done absentee campaigns for years for Republicans and Democrats alike, and he has been accused of running crews door to door in Bladen and Robeson counties to get people to request absentee ballots, then to witness dozens of them, all of which is legal. But a number of voters and at least one of Dowless' alleged crew members have said crew members also took ballots from voters, which is a felony due to tampering concerns.

More than 3,000 ballots in the 9th Congressional District general election were requested but never returned to election officials to be counted. More than 1,000 of those were from Robeson County, and more than 480 from neighboring Bladen County, where Dowless lives.

It's unknown how many of those voters simply declined to send their ballot back in.


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