Politics

North Carolina Woman Admits to ‘Harvesting’ Ballots for Mark Harris Operative

State elections board officials delay certifying Harris’ victory over Democrat Dan McCready

Fall leaves frame the dome of the U.S. Capitol building on Nov. 8, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A North Carolina woman on Tuesday admitted to illegally “harvesting” ballots for a campaign operative working for GOP candidate Mark Harris in the race for the state’s 9th District U.S. House seat.

Ginger Eason, a Bladen County resident, told a reporter for WSOC-TV on Tuesday that she had done campaign work for Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who paid her $75 to $100 per week to collect absentee ballots in the county and deliver them to him.

It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

“I was helping McCrae pick up ballots,” Eason told WSOC-TV, adding that she never looked to see whom people had voted for. She gave the ballots to Dowless.

She was then asked by the reporter whether the ballots she turned over to Dowless were reported and counted.

“I guess,” Eason said. “All I can say — I don’t know nothing [about] what happened after I dropped them off. ... I dropped them off. What they do, that’s on them.”

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During the campaign season, Dowless worked for the political consulting firm Red Dome, which the Harris campaign paid $428,000 this past cycle.

In a sworn affidavit submitted to the North Carolina state elections board, which is investigating the irregularities in the mail-in absentee ballots, one person described overhearing Dowless say he would receive a $40,000 bonus if Harris won.

Dowless is no stranger to Bladen County politics. He has been paid by multiple candidates for state and local positions — including Bladen County sheriff and a 2016 candidate in the 9th District’s GOP primary — for “get out the vote” functions, according to campaign finance reports first reported by WSOC-TV.

Republicans in North Carolina are pressuring the state elections board there to certify the 9th District results, even as the board continues to investigate irregularities in absentee mail-in voting.

Harris, a Baptist minister, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial vote count.

Harris and the North Carolina GOP have argued that even with alleged irregularities in mail-in absentee voting in Bladen County, there were not enough ballots in question to overturn the results of the midterm election.

“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,” Harris said in a statement Friday. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board 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.”

The board — comprised of four Republicans, four Democrats, and an unaffiliated ninth member — has twice in the last week declined to certify the election as it continues to collect evidence and sworn statements alleging illegal harvesting of absentee ballots for the benefit of Harris.

The board’s 7-2 vote on Friday included a provision to hold a public hearing by Dec. 21 to shed more light on its investigation.

A state prosecutor has been investigating the mail-in absentee ballot irregularities and potential tampering for roughly 10 months, her office confirmed over the weekend.

Harris’ distinct advantage in absentee voting in Bladen County, where voters cast an unusually high number of mail-in absentee ballots, has raised eyebrows.

Harris won 96 percent of all mail-in absentee ballots in the county in his primary race against GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger back in May, far outpacing his overall margin of victory.

And in the general election, Harris won 61 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County even though just 19 percent of the voters who requested and received mail-in ballots were registered Republicans.

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