Filled with bombshell revelations, 9th District hearing ends with new election
Posted February 18, 2019 10:04 a.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2019 11:37 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — After a four-day hearing into allegations of fraud in the 9th Congressional District election, the State Board of Elections ordered a new election be held.
Republican Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes after the November election, but the elections board didn't certify the results because of questions over absentee voting in Bladen and Robeson counties.
Evidence during the hearing showed a program run by a political operative hired by Harris' campaign to illegally collect absentee ballots.
Here is an account of how the hearing unfolded:
Thursday 4 p.m.: The elections board votes unanimously to call for a new election in the 9th District, as well as in two Bladen County races. No date has been set for the new elections. The hearing is adjourned.
3:50 p.m.: Board member Ken Raymond says the 9th District election was tainted, but he says it was tainted on both sides, criticizing actions of the Bladen County Improvement Association to secure absentee ballots as well. Board member Jeff Carmon says he doesn't want to throw the whole organization under the bus for the possible actions of a few people.
3:45 p.m.: After the elections board handled some issues that arose in unrelated Robeson County elections, they closed the evidentiary hearing. David Freedman, an attorney for Mark Harris, says the evidence presented showed illegal activity by Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless in the 9th District election but that there was no evidence that Harris or anyone one his campaign was aware of it.
3:15 p.m.: Attorney Marc Elias asks the state board to make an "adverse inference" for McCrae Dowless for refusing to testify, saying it would have revealed numerous illegal actions. Board Chairman Bob Cordle agreed. But Cordle denied Elias' motions to find similar adverse inferences against Mark Harris for cutting short his testimony and Harris' campaign for not producing documents when subpoenaed.
2:50 p.m.: Mark Harris calls for a new election in the 9th District, saying evidence of illegal absentee ballot harvesting has undermined public confidence in the results of the November election. Harris apologizes for any misstatements in his testimony, saying he's still struggling with an ongoing health problem. The board then excused him as a witness, and he left the hearing.
12:35 p.m.: "You just wanted to win," board member Jeff Carmon tells Mark Harris, noting Harris ignored his son's findings and never questioned McCrae Dowless about his absentee ballot operation.
12:30 p.m.: Board member Jeff Carmon notes that Mark Harris repeatedly said that no one raised red flags about McCrae Dowless' absentee ballot operation, but John Harris' emails with his father show otherwise. Mark Harris says he viewed his son's concerns as "family conversation" and didn't consider them as a warning of potential problems. "I just believed he was overreacting in his comments," he says.
12:25 p.m.: "Seems like quite a turnaround," board member Stella Anderson says of Mark Harris' attitude toward McCrae Dowless, citing an email exchange between Harris and his son in late 2016 in which he criticized Dowless and his decision to hire him for a 2018 campaign a few months later. Harris attributed the 2016 email to "bitterness" over his close loss in the 2016 GOP primary and the third-place finisher cleaning up among Bladen County absentee voters.
12:15 p.m.: Board member Stella Anderson questions Mark Harris about accepting McCrae Dowless' contention that the 9th District investigation as politically motivated and why he spoke so frequently to Dowless if Andy Yates was supervising him. Harris says he has always tried to have open relationships with people since his days as a pastor and that he now understands the scope of the investigation. Board Chairman Bob Cordle notes the investigation was started by the nonpartisan staff, not the board itself. Harris says he didn't know about his son testifying until Tuesday night and didn't know his campaign hadn't turned over John Harris' emails to investigators.
12:05 p.m.: Mark Harris says he didn't know about McCrae Dowless' felony convictions until after the state investigation into the 9th District election began. He says he never asked campaign consultant Andy Yates to do a criminal background check on Dowless, only to talk with Dowless about his absentee ballot program and "make sure it was legit."
12 p.m.: McCrae Dowless called the 9th District investigation "a set-up," Mark Harris says. He has had no contact with Dowless since Dec. 3, when the state subpoenaed the Harris campaign in the investigation. He says he didn't even speak to him on Monday, when Dowless refused to testify at the elections board hearing because the board wouldn't grant him immunity. In hindsight, Harris says, "I would have never gotten into this" if he had known everything the hearing has uncovered. He says he believes Dowless lied to him repeatedly.
11:55 a.m.: Mark Harris says he was aware of a note discussing payments for absentee ballots, but it was his understanding that Jeff Smith brought that up and that McCrae Dowless left the meeting where it was discussed. Dowless' ex-wife testified Tuesday that the meeting was at Dowless' house.
11:50 a.m.: Checks to Patriots for Progress were endorsed by Jeff Smith. Mark Harris says he knows who Smith is but didn't know if Smith was working with Dowless. Smith operated an internet sweepstakes parlor in Bladen County, and Sheriff Jim McVicker's decision to crack down on it prompted a fallout between Smith and Dowless because Dowless supported McVicker in the 2018 election.
11:45 a.m.: Mark Harris says he never discussed his son's concerns about McCrae Dowless' absentee ballot operation with Dowless and never asked him to send any explanation of his program to John Harris.
11:20 a.m.: Elections director Kim Strach points out that McCrae Dowless paid his workers differently to collect absentee ballots. Lots of payments were going out late in the campaign when few ballot requests were coming in, but no one questioned it, she says. Mark Harris says he didn't know about the payment structure after ballot request forms were submitted. "I did not get involved in that aspect of the program," he says.
11:15 a.m.: Mark Harris says he ws running his campaign "like I was running for county commissioner in Union County," saying he focused his efforts on the Charlotte suburbs and wasn't paying attention to details coming from Bladen County. He says he knows what he paid to Red Dome but was unaware that there were no receipts or invoices from McCrae Dowless to justify the expenses.
11:10 a.m.: Mark Harris guess-timated that his campaign paid McCrae Dowless $60,000 to $70,000 for his work, not the $131,00 that Dowless collected. Harris says only $25,000 to $30,000 was salary to Dowless, but he was surprised other expenses were so high.
11:05 a.m.: Mark Harris says he didn't review expenditures closely as campaign heated up because he was busy raising funds and making appearances. He says he wasn't aware that consultant Andy Yates was paying McCrae Dowless simply based on his word and wasn't getting documentation for the expenses. Yates never expressed concerns about the amounts being paid to Dowless, Harris says. State board Chairman Bob Cordle says Yates testified that Dowless negotiated his fees with Harris, but Harris says he doesn't recall setting specific amounts.
11 a.m.: Mark Harris says he paid McCrae Dowless even before he had made a final decision to run in the 9th District in 2018. He later hired Andy Yates and red Dome Group as a campaign consultant and told him about Dowless' operation and what his fees were. He says he told Yates to talk with Dowless, learn about the program and "make sure all the boxes were checked." But he doesn't recall relaying John Harris' concerns to Yates.
10:55 a.m.: State elections director Kim Strach shows checks Mark Harris write to Patriots for Progress, which Harris says were a down payment to get McCrae Dowless to work for the campaign. Strach points out that such "independent expenditure PAC" organizations aren't allowed to work directly with campaigns. Harris says he wasn't aware of that.
10:50 a.m.: John Harris had never been to Bladen County, met McCrae Dowless or talked with local officials, Mark Harris says. So, even though he respected his son's opinion, he didn't think it outweighed those of others familiar with Bladen County politics, he says. Elections board member Jeff Carmon says paying people by the number of absentee ballot requests instead of by the hour opens up the possibility of people resorting to illegal tactics, but Mark Harris says he never considered that possibility. Carmon asks if Harris, in hindsight, could see it as a bad arrangement. "Perhaps," Harris replied.
10:45 a.m.: "My son was a bit prophetic," Mark Harris says of John Harris' warnings about McCrae Dowless' absentee ballot operation. But Mark Harris says local leaders endorsed Dowless' work, so he decided to hire him for the campaign once he decided to run in the 9th District again. After John Harris' "final pitch" email warning about Dowless didn't prompt Mark Harris to question local officials as to whether what Dowless did was legal, Mark Harris says. Dowless was "clear" about his operation, so "I didn't feel it necessary," he says. "I was comfortable enough with the recommendations."
10:35 a.m.: Mark Harris says he wasn't familiar with absentee voting, so he asked his son whether McCrae Dowless' operation was legal. John Harris spelled out what was legal and what wasn't, and Mark Harris says his understanding what the Dowless' operation was above board. It simply involved a lot of follow-up instead of a simple phone call to encourage voting by mail, Mark Harris says. "He seemed to have the relationships" to succeed in the community, he says of Dowless, noting getting people to vote by mail "involves a certain amount of trust."
10:25 a.m.: Mark Harris says he spoke with his son, John Harris, about possibly hiring McCrae Dowless for his 2018 campaign, and John Harris emphasized that the campaign needed to make sure everything is legal. John Harris questioned the operation's 2016 results for former 9th District candidate Todd Johnson, but Mark Harris says results come down to Dowless' relationships with people in Bladen County.
10:20 a.m.: Mark Harris says he, McCrae Dowless and a few others met in a furniture store in April 2017, and Harris says he wanted an overview of Bladen County politics. Others told him landscape changing from Democratic to Republican following Donald Trump's presidential victory. Dowless explained his absentee ballot program as focused on hiring people to solicit absentee ballot requests and then sending crews to help people with the ballots, including witnessing them. "He said it again and again – 'We do not take the ballot,'" Harris says Dowless told him. Dowless said he paid workers by the absentee ballot request obtained, not by the hour.
10:15 a.m.: Mark Harris says he met with Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless after Judge Marion Warren recommended Dowless, who worked for GOP candidate Todd Johnson in the 2016 primary for the 9th District, which Harris narrowly lost to then-Congressman Robert Pittenger. "Todd Johnson didn't beat you. McCrae Dowless and his get-out-the-vote effort did," Warren told Harris, noting that Johnson captured almost all mail-in votes in Bladen County but finished a distant third in the primary.
10:10 a.m.: The elections board calls Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris as its 12th witness. The state withdrew its subpoena, so he is testifying voluntarily.
10:05 a.m.: Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias cites statements from Mark Harris campaign manager Jason Williams "who didn't work for the campaign" that the campaign has been transparent and wants a full investigation but that no evidence has been shown that would overturn the election results. Elias says all Harris campaign workers were misclassified as independent contractors, which violates state labor laws, and the distinction was used to evade state subpoenas.
9:45 a.m.: "That is, to me personally, not acceptable," elections board Chairman Bob Cordle says of decision not to review documents of Red Dome Group, which handled all workers for Mark Harris' 9th District campaign to determine what needed to be turned over to state investigators.
9:40 a.m.: Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias says the records of Mark Harris' campaign manager were reviewed to determine if they needed to be turned over to state investigators, so he might need to call more witnesses to determine what went on with the campaign. "I just want someone to tell me why," elections board member Jeff Carmon says of records not being turned over. Board member Stella Anderson asks who told Mark Harris' son, John Harris, that his emails would be turned over and then didn't.
9:30 a.m.: "I'm hearing a lot of parsing," Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias says about what campaign documents are covered by state subpoenas because all campaign workers were handled as independent contractors by Red Dome Group. "I feel there's a game of three-card monte going on here," Elias says, alleging documents he should be able to review are being withheld.
9:25 a.m.: Marc Elias, an attorney for Democratic 9th District candidate Dan McCready says this isn't the first time Mark Harris' campaign has been slow to produce documents in the investigation. Elias asks the board to make an "adverse inference" about the campaign's actions and possibly recall political consultant Andy Yates and John Harris for more questioning about new documents.
9:20 a.m.: Elections board attorney Josh Lawson says the Mark Harris campaign offered to turn over documents 15 minutes before John Harris testified on Wednesday even though the board was aware of them for weeks. "I'm here to own that," campaign attorney John Branch says of mistakenly believing the documents weren't covered by a subpoena. Branch says the campaign has reviewed "thousands upon thousands" of documents and turned them over to state investigators earlier.
9:15 a.m.: Mark Harris' campaign attorney says he made a mistake, believing that a new subpoena was similar in scope to a previous one, so the documents weren't covered. Other documents included emails between Harris and his son, John, who testified Wednesday and turned over the emails himself even though the campaign had said they would do so.
9:05 a.m.: State Board of Elections general counsel Josh Lawson outlines a disagreement between the board of Republican 9th Congressional District candidate Mark Harris' campaign over what documents were supposed to be turned over to state investigators under a subpoena. One of the documents includes an email between Harris and Judge Marion Warren, who introduced him to Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless in early 2017.
Wednesday 5:05 p.m.: The hearing has concluded for the day and will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.
5 p.m.: "We can all do better than this," John Harris says, urging everyone to "transcend partisan politics" and get away from tactics like those used by McCrae Dowless.
4:55 p.m.: John Harris says his father has a trusting personality and wanted to serve the public in Congress. He tried to get his father to share his suspicions of McCrae Dowless, but after a while, he gave up because his parents were set on using Dowless in the campaign. "I certainly do not believe, if he had know that Mr. Dowless was collecting ballots illegally, that he would have retained him," John Harris says.
4:45 p.m.: After the State Board of Elections refused to certify the 9th District results in November, John Harris says it took only a few days for media reports to surface about concerns about Bladen County voting, and he says he immediately thought McCrae Dowless was the problem. His parents never said anything about "being caught" and felt for some time that Dowless was the subject of "a hit job."
4:40 p.m.: Mark Harris' campaign didn't turn John Harris' emails with his parents over to state investigators, even though the campaign said they would, John Harris says. He provided the emails to investigators when he met with them in late January. John Harris says he's had limited discussions with his parents since December because of his role in the U.S. Attorney's Office and the ongoing investigation into the 9th District election.
4:30 p.m.: John Harris says he found 2018 absentee ballot numbers also were suspicious, but he figured Andy Yates was ensuring that McCrae Dowless was doing things legally. He says that he now wishes he would have pushed his father and Yates harder when it came to overseeing Dowless' absentee ballot operation in Bladen County.
4:20 p.m.: John Harris says there was no intent to deceive anyone by paying McCrae Dowless through Red Dome Group, only an effort to create some political separation. Other campaign workers were then handled likewise, he says.
4:15 p.m.: John Harris says the lack of documentation to support McCrae Dowless' activities would have raised a red flag, but he assumed Andy Yates and Red Dome Group were keeping track of everything. He says he was aware that Dowless had a criminal record but didn't know the specifics, but that caused even more concern that Dowless could be a political liability.
3:50 p.m.: John Harris objects to attorney Marc Elias' characterization of "willful blindness," but he says McCrae Dowless' record of success in elections and endorsements by other politicians weighed into his parents' calculations before they hired Dowless for Mark Harris' 2018 congressional campaign. There was no discussion of fearing that another Republican candidate would hire Dowless if Mark Harris didn't, John Harris says.
3:45 p.m.: John Harris says he told his parents that having people witness numerous absentee ballots, which McCrae Dowless had said was part of his operation, was problematic, even if legal. He told them he was fairly certain Dowless was harvesting ballots, but his parents tried to reconcile his concerns with what Dowless told them. "They were certainly wanting it to be true," he says.
3:35 p.m.: McCrae Dowless assured Mark Harris and his wife that he didn't collect absentee ballots, John Harris says, adding that he doesn't know if his parents asked Dowless point-blank about it. John Harris says he didn't believe Dowless, based on 2016 data, but his parents "don't have a great deal of suspicion."
3:05 p.m.: Absentee voting in Bladen County was 10 times that of in-person votes in the 2016 GOP primary, John Harris says, which raised a red flag for him. There were also an unusually large number of black absentee voters from the county in the primary, he says.
3 p.m.: John Harris says he assumed Andy Yates and Red Dome Group were exercising some oversight of McCrae Dowless' activities, and he's certain his parents were unaware of any illegality. "I think they were lied to and they believed the person that lied to them," he says.
2:55 p.m.: John Harris says he felt his parents had already made up their minds to hire McCrae Dowless to assist with the 2018 congressional campaign. Despite his warnings, they believed Dowless' operation to be legal, he says.
2:50 p.m.: John Harris says he has no reason to believe his father or anyone else with the campaign knew exactly what McCrae Dowless was doing with absentee ballots. He says they simply believed what Dowless told them about the operation. "I just didn't believe McCrae because the numbers didn't add up," John Harris says. He says he told his father he believed Dowless' operation was illegal ballot harvesting.
2:45 p.m.: John Harris emailed his father a section of state law about collecting an absentee ballot being a felony offense. He says he did so because he believed McCrae Dowless had harvested absentee ballots in 2016. He says he also learned that Dowless had a criminal conviction, which he says also worried him. Having Dowless affiliated with the campaign presented political concerns, he says.
2:40 p.m.: John Harris says he learned in April 2017 that his father had talked with McCrae Dowless about his system of turning out absentee voting in Bladen County. John Harris says he then realized Dowless had been Todd Johnson's operative in the 2016 election. He says he was unaware that Dowless had been part of a state hearing into Bladen County voting irregularities in the 2016 election.
2:30 p.m.: John Harris says he spoke with his father on primary night 2016, and Mark Harris told him someone in the campaign told him Todd Johnson had an absentee ballot operation in place in Bladen County. He says he looked at the data later and found large numbers of ballots submitted on certain dates, and he became concerned the "batching of ballots" meant someone was harvesting absentee ballots.
2:25 p.m.: John Harris says he watched voting returns in the 9th District during the 2016 primary and thought the absentee numbers in Bladen County "looked strange." He emailed his parents that night about a possible recount after Mark Harris lost to then-Congressman Robert Pittenger and noted a possible counting error in Bladen County, where third-place finisher Todd Johnson received 214 of 218 mail-in votes.
2:20 p.m.: John Harris says he was "certainly surprised" about the lack of record-keeping regarding McCrae Dowless' work for Mark Harris' congressional campaign. He says he thought Dowless would get a flat fee, not a bonus for every absentee ballot request.
2:15 p.m.: John Harris says he was a sounding board for his parents during his father's 2016 and 2018 runs for Congress. He says he raised concerns with campaign consultant Andy Yates in 2017 about hiring McCrae Dowless. "Seems to me like maybe a shady character," John Harris says he told Yates. He says Yates also seemed wary but assured John Harris that they would make sure Dowless did what he said he would and that they would separate Dowless from the campaign by setting him up as a contractor for Red Dome Group. "My overall sense was that he was going to exercise some oversight," John Harris says of Yates.
2:10 p.m.: John Harris says he reviewed his emails with his parents to determine whether any of them were privileged as attorney-client communication. He says he was told that they weren't privileged and would be turned over to state investigators, and he agreed to speak with them.
2:05 p.m.: Instead of John Harris, the elections board calls his son, John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney, as its 11th witness. John Harris says none of his comments represent U.S. Department of Justice positions and that he knows nothing about the federal investigation of voting irregularities in the 9th Congressional District.
1 p.m.: After about 7½ hours on the stand, Andy Yates is finished. Mark Harris is expected to be called as a witness when the board returns from its lunch break.
12:55 p.m.: Andy Yates says he doesn't recall any conversation with Mark Harris' son about concerns with McCrae Dowless' absentee ballot operation.
12:50 p.m.: State Elections Director Kim Strach pulls up a photo of McCrae Dowless where she says a flier sent out by the state board can be seen on a table next to him. She says the flier was sent to Bladen County voters telling them not to let anyone collect their absentee ballots. Mark Harris campaign consultant Andy Yates says Dowless never complained to him about the state cracking down on absentee voting.
12:45 p.m.: An attorney for the state board questions Andy Yates about payments to McCrae Dowless, suggesting that Dowless inflated the numbers of absentee ballot requests in 2017 for which he was reimbursed. Dowless was supposed to get $4 per request from the Mark Harris campaign, but the board's attorney says the numbers work out to about $51 per request.
12:35 p.m.: After some questioning by attorneys for candidates in other uncertified races, Andy Yates is again questioned by Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias, again about his knowledge of McCrae Dowless' criminal history. Yates says what he found didn't concern him, especially since a number of people vouched for Dowless.
11:55 a.m.: When elections board members ask whether anyone with Mark Harris' campaign should have suspected wrongdoing with McCrae Dowless' activities, campaign consultant Andy Yates says he doesn't know why they should have but says people in Bladen County should have.
11:50 a.m.: Alex Dale: "Mr. Dowless pulled the wool over the eyes of many people." Andy Yates: "That appears to be the case."
11:40 a.m.: Andy Yates says grassroots voter operation was needed in Bladen County because campaign ads for Mark Harris airing in Charlotte wouldn't reach those voters. He says he knows of no allegation of impropriety regarding any of McCrae Dowless' activities for the Harris campaign outside of absentee balloting.
11:05 a.m.: Attorney Alex Dale reads through campaign finance reports that he says shows the Bladen County Improvement Association paid people to obtain absentee ballot requests. State board Chairman Bob Cordle says get-out-the-vote refers to encouraging people to vote, and Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias says Dale is "smearing" people by suggesting they were collecting ballots just because they were paid by BCIA.
11 a.m.: Andy Yates says McCrae Dowless never indicated he and the Bladen County Improvement Association had carved up the county into territories where each would target voters to recruit for absentee voting and not encroach on the other's neighborhoods.
10:55 a.m.: Attorney Alex Dale points out that Democrat Dan McCready had more absentee votes in the November election across the 9th District than Republican Mark Harris received. Political consultant Andy Yates agrees that Harris could have won the election without a single absentee vote in Bladen and Robeson counties, the two areas where McCrae Dowless worked.
10:50 a.m.: Mark Harris obtained 56 percent of mail-in votes in 2018 general election in Bladen County, which was about the same as his overall vote percentage in the race. Andy Yates says he would have expected even more absentee votes, given the work the Harris campaign put in there.
10:40 a.m.: Andy Yates says he and his attorney recently recreated his initial Google search of McCrae Dowless, including misspelling his name, and again turned up only a few misdemeanor offenses. Yates also says that high absentee ballot margins might be unusual but don't necessarily indicate impropriety.
10:35 a.m.: Attorney Alex Dale points out that, when McCrae Dowless asserted his Fifth Amendment rights during a 2016 state hearing, it related to how he obtained campaign finance information and was unrelated to absentee ballots.
10:25 a.m.: Alex Dale, an attorney for Republican candidate Mark Harris notes that the "This American Life" segment aired after the 2016 election and that statements about election fraud referred to the Bladen County Improvement Association. But state board Chairman Bob Cordle notes that McCrae Dowless mentioned paying workers in an absentee ballot operation. "It was a very confusing situation for everyone," Cordle says.
10:20 a.m.: Andy Yates says Mark Harris called him late one night after a news report about the state investigation into the 9th District election and told Yates he thought McCrae Dowless was getting a bad rap and being treated unfairly in the media.
10:15 a.m.: Attorney Marc Elias reads from the transcript of the 2016 State Board of Elections hearing into Bladen County voting irregularities, showing that the local elections board was communicating with McCrae Dowless, providing him with information not available to the public. Dowless told the state board that he would mark absentee ballot requests with his initials so the local board could contact him – not necessarily the voter – if there was a problem. Yates calls it "concerning" that someone affiliated with a campaign would have access to such information.
10:05 a.m.: Andy Yates says 5 percent of Mark Harris' campaign expenses went to McCrae Dowless for his work in Bladen, Robeson and Cumberland counties, including absentee ballots, yard signs and campaign events. Dowless got a monthly fee, as well as a set price for each absentee ballot request submitted. Yates says Dowless wasn't paid to collect or witness ballots.
9:55 a.m.: Andy Yates reads from a transcript of an interview Mark Harris did with WBTV in which Harris said absentee ballot returns in Bladen County were unusual in the 2016 Republican primary, when third-place finisher Todd Johnson captured almost every mail-in vote in the county.
9:45 a.m.: Andy Yates says McCrae Dowless never told him his workers were witnessing absentee ballots. As Marc Elias plays segments of the "This American Life" segment on the 9th District issues, Yates says anyone engaged in election fraud should go to jail, as well as anyone who knowingly employed someone engaged in fraud.
9:35 a.m.: Information about McCrae Dowless paying people to collect absentee ballots was included in a segment of "This American Life" on National Public Radio, but Andy Yates says he wasn't familiar with it. The segment also noted that some voters who requested absentee ballots never received them. Yates says he's familiar with that only as it relates to problems that occurred after Hurricane Florence last fall.
9:30 a.m.: After reviewing a transcript of a 2016 State Board of Elections hearing into voting irregularities in Bladen County, Andy Yates says he never knew McCrae Dowless asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination amid questioning by board members.
9:25 a.m.: Attorney Marc Elias shows Andy Yates an AP story in which Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris said his campaign consultants missed McCrae Dowless' felony convictions during a background check. Yates says he never conducted a criminal background check on Dowless and doesn't know who else might have done so.
9:15 a.m.: Political consultant Andy Yates of Red Dome Group returns to the witness stand. Marc Elias, an attorney for Democratic 9th District candidate Dan McCready, asks him about what he knew about the criminal history of Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless. Yates says knew only about a few misdemeanors, not that Dowless had a felony fraud conviction.
Tuesday 5:30 p.m.: The hearing has concluded for the day and will resume at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.
5:30 p.m.: Andy Yates says he expected more mail-in votes in the general election than the 420 Mark Harris received out of Bladen County. "We slightly underperformed," he says, noting that Harris didn't hit the 60 percent of the total vote mark in the county that Yates had predicted.
5:10 p.m.: Republican Party officials never said McCrae Dowless asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a 2016 State Board of Elections investigation into absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County, according to Mark Harris campaign consultant Andy Yates, who says he's "livid" with the party about it because of Dowless' subsequent work with the Harris campaign. North Carolina GOP director Dallas Woodhouse told Yates after the 2018 primary that he hopes Dowless' efforts would also work in the general election, Yates says.
5 p.m.: "I don't know what to believe about Mr. Dowless," political consultant Andy Yates says. Last year, he says, he believed Dowless was getting results for the Mark Harris campaign, noting Dowless' absentee ballot work had been effective for state and local candidates in previous elections. But Yates says testimony from some Dowless workers Monday in the State Board of Elections hearing destroyed his confidence in Dowless' absentee ballot operation.
4:50 p.m.: McCrae Dowless used data on absentee voting in Bladen County that he had collected over the years and that he obtained from local elections officials, Andy Yates says, adding that he might have supplied voter data to Dowless that he had obtained from an outside company. "It was heavily friends, family members," Yates says of Dowless' efforts to target voters.
4:40 p.m.: Andy Yates says McCrae Dowless told him he never saw an absentee ballot, that after obtaining requests for ballots, he left it up to his workers to encourage people to complete and submit the ballots. "We were not paying people to witness ballots, not to my knowledge," Yates says.
4:30 p.m.: Andy Yates says he never would have associated with McCrae Dowless if he had known about his fraud and perjury convictions, saying it puts a cloud on the campaign and on his political consulting group. Yates says he doubts Mark Harris knew of the convictions either, calling Harris very transparent. Yates says he heard a rumor that someone in Bladen County had informed the Harris campaign of Dowless' criminal history, but he doesn't know if that's accurate.
4:25 p.m.: Mark Harris obtained 437 of 456 absentee votes in Bladen County in the 2018 GOP primary, which consultant Andy Yates says is what the Harris campaign felt was appropriate given the resources the campaign was investing in the absentee ballot effort. "We were all excited to have won that primary," Yates says.
4:15 p.m.: Andy Yates says it's "not unusual" that Todd Johnson got 221 of 226 absentee ballots cast in Bladen County in the GOP 9th District primary in 2016, saying it just shows that Johnson was the only one of the three candidates to run an absentee ballot operation in the county. "It made me wonder what he did in that county," Yates says, noting that he learned later that McCrae Dowless worked for Johnson in that election. Yates says he wasn't aware that Mark Harris considered the results suspicious or asked an attorney to look into it until last fall.
4:10 p.m.: Judge Marion Warren introduced Mark Harris to McCrae Dowless, political consultant Andy Yates says. Warren told Harris he wished he could have put him in touch with Dowless in 2016, when Harris lost the GOP primary to then-9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger, according to Yates.
3:35 p.m.: Andy Yates says he didn't conduct a criminal background check on McCrae Dowless, but he happened to learn that Dowless had faced a few misdemeanors decades ago when he checked his name on the internet before meeting him for the first time.
3:25 p.m.: Andy Yates says he has no idea how much of what he paid McCrae Dowless for work on Mark Harris' campaign went to the absentee ballot effort versus yard signs or campaign events in Bladen County. Josh Lawson, an attorney for the State Board of Elections, suggests that Dowless was inflating the numbers of absentee ballot requests he turned in to the campaign for reimbursement.
3:10 p.m.: Andy Yates says he stopped talking to McCrae Dowless shortly after the State Board of Elections refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District election and after he learned that the state board of investigating absentee voting irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties.
3 p.m.: McCrae Dowless was a political junkie who called Andy Yates almost daily for updates on Mark Harris' campaign, Yates says, noting that he sometimes ducked Dowless' calls. "He was a needy person who needed validation," Yates says.
2:45 p.m.: Political consultant Andy Yates expressed anger at learning that McCrae Dowless was using money paid by Mark Harris' campaign through Yates' red Dome Group to collect absentee ballots. Dowless had told him his workers never touched the ballots. "I was shocked and disturbed to learn that was not the case," Yates says, adding that he would have fired Dowless on the spot and notified the State Board of Elections immediately about the issue had he known.
2:40 p.m.: Mark Harris' campaign was broke after the 2018 primary, consultant Andy Yates says. "We cut TV, we cut mail ... we cut McCrae's part of the budget," Yates says of the effort to keep the campaign solvent through the primary. Once Harris became the Republican nominee, Yates says, more money flowed into the campaign from donors and special-interest groups.
2:25 p.m.: McCrae Dowless accused the Bladen County Improvement Association "of being crooked, and he had no use for the Bladen Improvement PAC," Andy Yates says, adding that he was stunned to hear testimony from the elections board hearing that Dowless and a BCIA official shared lists of absentee ballot targets. "Mr. Dowless hated the Bladen Improvement PAC," Yates says.
2:15 p.m.: Mark Harris' campaign set up to pay all campaign workers as contractors through Red Dome, Andy Yates says. "Mr. Dowless was a done deal before I came on the campaign," he says, noting that he told Harris any time Dowless wanted to negotiate for more money.
2:10 p.m.: Political consultant Andy Yates says he wasn't concerned about McCrae Dowless' operation, saying it sounded like he knew the rules and he knew the territory. "No red flags at all," Yates says. Dowless also hooked Mark Harris up with local officials, Yates says.
2:05 p.m.: Expenses to Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless were in the campaign budget, consultant Andy Yates says. Reimbursements were often made without any documentation to support the expense, he says. "Most of the time, I didn't know what Mr. Dowless did." Yates says he'd never heard of Dowless before his work with Mark Harris' campaign. Dowless outlined his work as targeting people who had voted absentee before, as well as family and friends of his staff. Dowless told Yates his staff never touched absentee ballots, only encouraging people to vote by mail.
2 p.m.: Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris' campaign hired Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless before Red Dome was hired to handle various aspects of the campaign, Andy Yates says. Dowless was paid $4 per absentee ballot request in the primary and $5 per request in the general election, in addition to a monthly fee. Yates says it was his understanding that the money would go to workers. Dowless also handled various other functions for the campaign, such as yard signs, he says.
1:55 p.m.: Political consultant Andy Yates says some of the campaigns he's worked on have included absentee ballot efforts. Some of the campaigns covered Bladen and Robeson counties, he says.
1:50 p.m.: The elections board calls Andy Yates of political consulting firm Red Dome Group as its 10th witness. The board withdrew its subpoena, and Yates is testifying voluntarily.
12:40 p.m.: Mitchell Edwards says he turned to shut the tabulator down after signing the totals tape and didn't see when Michele Maultsby and Agnes Willis signed before the tape was secured. He says he didn't hear any other poll workers commenting on the results.
12:30 p.m.: Mitchell Edwards returns to the witness stand to review the tape of results from the voting tabulator.
12:20 p.m.: Agnes Willis says she didn't participate in Bladen County Improvement Association efforts to secure absentee ballots, although her cousin and her niece turned in dozens of absentee ballot requests. She said she did witness some absentee ballots.
12:05 p.m.: Elections board officials rolls out the tape of early voting results from the tabulating machine on the witness stand, and Agnes Willis says she saw most of it stretched out like that at the close of early voting.
11:25 a.m.: An attorney and a notary showed up at Agnes Willis' office on Nov. 29 to obtain her affidavit about people seeing early vote totals prematurely, she says. He never identified whom he was working for, she says, and he filled out the affidavit based on what she told him.
11:20 a.m.: Agnes Willis says she didn't see who pulled the tape of results from the tabulating machine and saw it only after hearing another poll worker express surprise at the Bladen County sheriff totals. There was no discussion among the workers that they shouldn't be looking at the results. Interest in the sheriff's race was high in Bladen County because it pitted Sheriff Jim McVicker, a political veteran, against Hakeem Brown, a young, black Democratic candidate.
11:10 a.m.: An attorney called to inquire about early vote totals, but no one on the Bladen County Board of Elections asked about them, Agnes Willis says.
11:05 a.m.: Agnes Willis says she didn't disclose any early vote totals, and she doesn't know if anyone else discussed them. She says she called her daughter in Chapel Hill, however, because she didn't feel right about seeing some early vote totals. One poll worker kept his finger on the sheriff's race totals so that everyone else could easily see it, she says.
11 a.m.: Agnes Willis says she heard another poll worker say, "Oh my God," and says she saw him looking at the tape of tabulated results. She says he had his finger on the Bladen County sheriff totals and says, "I thought the black guy had it," referring to Democratic candidate Hakeem Brown. Other people then came over and looked at the results. Michele Maltsby was the only person there who didn't look at the results because she was busy with other tasks, Willis says.
10:50 a.m.: The elections board calls Bladen County poll worker Agnes Willis as its ninth witness. Her subpoena was withdrawn, and she's testifying voluntarily.
10:45 a.m.: No one else saw any early vote totals, Mitchell Edwards says.
10:35 a.m.: Attorneys for Democratic 9th District candidate Dan McCready asked Mitchell Edwards how he happened to see early voting results for Bladen County sheriff when that race was in the middle of a curled-up tape of totals for all races. "I didn't look for it, but I saw it," Edwards replied, noting he was pulling the tape out of the tabulating machine so that he and other poll judges could sign it.
10:30 a.m.: No one asked about early vote totals, Mitchell Edwards says, and he didn't tell anyone what he saw regarding the sheriff's race. State Elections Director Kim Strach asked if he knew he wasn't supposed to tabulate results early, and Edwards responded he hadn't been taught that. "I think you will be," Strach says.
10:25 a.m.: Mitchell Edwards says he ran the tabulation at the close of early voting and happened to see results in the Bladen County sheriff's race. He says he didn't see totals for the 9th Congressional District.
10:20 a.m.: The elections board calls Bladen County poll worker Coy Mitchell Edwards as its eighth witness. He also is testifying voluntarily after a state subpoena was withdrawn.
10 a.m.: Bladen County's elections director told Michele Maultsby that early vote totals were circulating, and she asked Maultsby about it, Maultsby says.
9:50 a.m.: "Not on my watch," Michele Maultsby said of allowing early voting numbers to leak out early.
9:45 a.m.: Michele Maultsby says no one aside from her and a couple other poll workers saw the tabulated results, which were put into "the treasure chest" for safekeeping and returned to the county elections office.
9:40 a.m.: Michele Maultsby says early voting results were tabulated after the early voting period ended on Saturday, Nov. 3. All early voting in Bladen County is done at the county library.
9:30 a.m.: The elections board calls Bladen County poll worker Michele Maultsby as its seventh witness. Like previous witnesses, the board has withdrawn its subpoena, so she is testifying voluntarily.
Monday 5:45 p.m.: The elections board hearing has closed for the day and will resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
5:40 p.m.: The elections board says it won't provide McCrae Dowless with immunity, but Chairman Bob Cordle says the board hopes Dowless will testify voluntarily. Attorney Cynthia Singletary says he complied with a subpoena to appear at the hearing but won't go beyond that. Dowless was allowed to leave.
5:25 p.m.: The elections board calls McCrae Dowless as a witness. His lawyer, Cynthia Singletary, says he's at the hearing to comply with a subpoena, but he should be granted immunity if forced to testify under subpoena. If the board withdraws the subpoena, as it has with other witnesses, he won't testify, Singletary says. Attorneys for Dan McCready object, saying they should be allowed to question Dowless. The board goes into closed session to confer with its lawyer.
5:15 p.m.: Precious Hall says she usually votes in person but received an absentee ballot in the mail. Two women showed up at her door to collect it, so she filled it out, sealed it in an envelope, signed the envelope and handed it over, she says.
5:10 p.m.: The elections board calls former Bladen County resident Precious Hall as its fifth witness. Like the others, she's testifying voluntarily after the board dismissed the subpoena against her.
5:05 p.m.: Kimberly Robinson says McCrae Dowless would sometimes advise her on voting because she's not from Bladen County and isn't familiar with the politics there. "I've know McCrae from the past, and I trusted him," she says.
5 p.m.: Kimberly Robinson says she turned a blank absentee ballot in an unsealed envelope over to two of McCrae Dowless' workers. She's done that before, she says.
4:55 p.m.: The elections board calls Kimberly Robinson of Bladenboro as its fourth witness. She was under subpoena but says she is testifying voluntarily.
4:25 p.m.: Sandra Dowless recalls hearing a phone conversation between McCrae Dowless and 9th District candidate Mark Harris in which McCrae Dowless told Harris he had a big lead in the race because he had reviewed who had returned absentee ballots. Harris asked if that was legal, she said. "I wouldn't do anything that's illegal," she says McCrae Dowless replied. "I know the people and how they vote."
4:20 p.m.: Sandra Dowless reviews a note state investigators show her about picking up unsealed absentee ballots and says McCrae Dowless told her that it came from another political operative, not him.
4:15 p.m.: The elections board calls Sandra Dowless as its third witness. She is Lisa Britt's mother and was married to McCrae Dowless from 1991 to 1993. She was subpoenaed but is testifying voluntarily.
3:55 p.m.: Kelly Hendrix says all of the absentee ballots she collected were sealed. Many of the ballots she witnessed were relatives of her or her boyfriend or people she knew from work, she says.
3:50 p.m.: Kelly Hendrix says she witnessed several absentee ballots and then handed them over to McCrae Dowless before a second witness signed them.
3:45 p.m.: Kelly Hendrix tearfully recounts how she met McCrae Dowless, saying he reminds her of her father. She says she worked for him collecting absentee ballots during both the 2016 and 2018 elections. She doesn't recall how much she was paid.
3:40 p.m.: The elections board calls Kelly Hendrix, another person who worked for Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless, as the second witness. Although she was subpoenaed, she says she's testifying voluntarily.
3:30 p.m.: Elections Board Chairman Bob Cordle repeatedly objects to a question from Mark Harris' attorneys as to whether it's fair not to declare him the winner of the 9th Congressional District race when, as far as she knows, all of the votes Harris received were fairly cast.
3:25 p.m.: Elections Board Chairman Bob Cordle briefly halts questioning by Mark Harris' attorneys, asking whether they plan to argue that the Bladen County Improvement Association was committing election fraud in the 9th Congressional District race.
3:20 p.m.: Lisa Britt says most of the 35 to 40 absentee ballots she picked up were properly sealed and witnessed. Those that weren't witnessed were taken to McCrae Dowless' office to be signed. She filled out fewer than 10 unfinished ballots, and all of those voters had already voted for Harris.
3:10 p.m.: McCrae Dowless told his workers never to sign an absentee ballots request form for a voter, Lisa Britt says. Dowless and officials of the Bladen County Improvement Association, a Democratic Party-aligned group, would share lists of voters they had recruited to vote by mail, she says.
3:05 p.m.: Attorneys for Republican 9th Congressional District candidate Mark Harris question Lisa Britt.
3 p.m.: "I didn't think my father would send me out to do something illegal," Lisa Britt says, noting that she didn't read a notice on absentee ballots that it's a felony for someone to submit a ballot fraudulently.
2:15 p.m.: Lisa Britt says she trusted McCrae Dowless and didn't question why he was doing certain things, such as using specific ink on witness signatures, because he's been a father figure to her for 30 years.
2:10 p.m.: "We were doing what we were paid to do," Lisa Britt says of completing others' ballots, adding that she knew it was illegal.
2 p.m.: Attorneys for Democratic 9th Congressional District candidate Dan McCready question Lisa Britt, who worked for Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless on Republican Mark Harris' campaign.
12:40 p.m.: Lisa Britt says McCrae Dowless gave her a statement last week to read in the elections board hearing into the 9th Congressional District election stating that Dowless didn't do anything wrong and that she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. "I do feel like I've done wrong," she says, adding that she also believes Dowless's actions were wrong. "I think you've got one innocent person here," she says, referring to 9th District candidate mark Harris.
12:35 p.m.: Lisa Britt says McCrae Dowless called his workers together for a meeting after the State Board of Elections refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District in November to look into fraud allegations. "As long as we all stick together, we'll be fine because they don't have anything on us," she says Dowless told them.
12:30 p.m.: Lisa Britt says she met Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris, who had hired McCrae Dowless to handle get-out-the-vote efforts in Bladen County, several times, but she doesn't believe he understood Dowless' operation. "I think Mr. Harris was completely clueless as to what was going on," she says. Still, she says, Dowless and another Harris contractor would discuss how many votes were needed to counteract Democratic efforts in the county.
12:20 p.m.: Another woman who worked for McCrae Dowless filled out a relative's absentee ballot in Lisa Britt's car and had it witnessed by others, Britt says. Other workers also filled out ballots for relatives, she says.
12:15 p.m.: McCrae Dowless wanted the voter's signature and the witnesses' signatures to be in the same color ink, so some witness signatures were signed over, Lisa Britt says.
12:10 p.m.: McCrae Dowless told his workers to mail no more than nine absentee ballots at a time and to use post offices close to where the voters live, Lisa Britt says.
12:05 p.m.: McCrae Dowless told Lisa Britt to stop witnessing so many ballots, so she sometimes would sign her mother's name or would take ballots back to Dowless' office to be signed by others, Britt says.
12 p.m.: Lisa Britt says she sometimes collected unsealed absentee ballots and admitted that she sometimes peaked to see who the voter supported. She also says she would fill out ballots if they were incomplete. Down-ballot races were sometimes left blank, but people usually cast votes in congressional and sheriff races, she says, noting she would vote for Republican candidates. McCrae Dowless said having votes for only a few races would raise red flags with elections officials, she says.
11:55 a.m.: Lisa Britt says McCrae Dowless' workers would fill out absentee ballot requests for people who previously voted and then take them out to be signed. Because a Bladenboro man whose form she filled out had died, McCrae Dowless signed the request form, she says.
11:35 a.m.: Second person who witnessed Bladenboro woman's ballot signed it as McCrae Dowless' house, not at the voter's home, Lisa Britt says. The man wasn't even with Britt at the woman's home when she filled out the ballot, she says.
11:30 a.m.: Lisa Britt says Horace Munn gave McCrae Dowless a list of people that she and other Dowless workers couldn't visit about absentee ballots because they were registered by the Bladen County Improvement Association.
11:25 a.m.: Lisa Britt says she took a signed, sealed ballot from a Bladenboro woman and handed it over to McCrae Dowless. Dowless later spoke with a third party, Horace Munn, and then told her to return the ballot to the woman, she says.
11:20 a.m.: If a voter didn't have anybody available to witness his or her ballot, McCrae Dowless' workers would take it back to the office to be witnessed, Lisa Britt says. Dowless didn't pay as much for returned ballots as for absentee ballot requests. "A lot of people don't want to give you their absentee ballot," Britt says.
11:15 a.m.: Lisa Britt says people working for Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless went to populated areas of several southeastern North Carolina counties to obtain as many absentee ballot requests as possible. They also helped people register to vote.
11:05 a.m.: Lisa Britt says McCrae Dowless had preprinted forms to obtain voter signatures to request absentee ballots. Several people worked in his office on the project. "We were paid on the amount of people we had registering," she says.
10:55 a.m.: Lisa Britt says she voted in the November election, despite being on probation for a felony conviction. She says McCrae Dowless gave her advice on how to do that.
10:50 a.m.: Lisa Britt, who worked for Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless, is called as the state's first witness. Although she was subpoenaed, she says she is testifying voluntarily. Her mother used to be married to Dowless, so he was "a father figure" to her for years, she says.
10:30 a.m.: State Elections Director Kim Strach says there is no evidence that any early voting results were improperly disclosed before Elections Day. But there was lax security at the Bladen County Board of Elections office, such as labeled keys left in the open. State officials did an extra audit to make sure all printed ballots were accounted for. The numbers were off by four, but Strach said officials think that may be simply a miscount.
10:25 a.m.: The scheme included tracing over witness signatures with pens to match the ink color used by a voter and mailing small batches of absentee ballots at post offices close to where the voters purported to be sending them live, State Elections Director Kim Strach says. Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless also tried to obstruct the state investigation.
10:20 a.m.: State Elections Director Kim Strach says Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless paid people to collect absentee ballot requests or the ballots themselves and to falsify witness certifications. Crews were paid $150 for 50 ballot requests and $125 for 50 ballots, she says. Collecting an absentee ballot is illegal, unless you are a close relative of the voter, she says.
10:15 a.m.: State Elections Director Kim Strach says investigators found a "coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" in Bladen and Robeson counties in the 2018 election. Investigators questioned more than 30 witnesses and talked with 142 voters to gather evidence.