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Dispatches: Second Day Of 9th District Hearing Wraps Up In Raleigh

The state board of elections is holding its hearing into allegations of election fraud in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. The hearing, which began yesterday, is expected to last through Wednesday. 

WFAE's Steve Harrison is covering the hearing in Raleigh. Check back throughout the day for live updates.  

The five-member board will hear from its own investigators, witnesses and the campaigns of Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Then, the board will consider what to do next.

If the board finds the race was tainted by irregularities or improprieties, it could decide to certify Harris, who leads in unofficial results by 905 votes, as the winner. It could also vote to have a new election.

WFAE's Steve Harrison gives a 9th District hearing update on "All Things Considered"

Updated: 6:45 p.m.

The second day of the N.C. Board of Elections hearing finished at 5:30 p.m. today, with Red Dome Group political consultant Andy Yates answering questions.

After Yates is finished answering questions, the elections board said it will call Republican Mark Harris on Wednesday morning.

Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias asked Yates about the remarkable results Dowless had had in past elections, in absentee by mail results.

For instance, Elias asked Yates about the 2016 Republican primary, when Todd Johnson – who had hired Dowless – got 221 of 226 absentee mail votes.

Yates said he believed that Johnson did so well because he invested heavily in Bladen County.

“If one person is working that county, and the other two aren’t, then the candidate that’s working the county would do very well,” Yates said.

Elias then asked: “Would you say 221 out of 226 votes is very well? Or better than very well?”

Yates said it was better than very well.

When asked about the unusual election results, he said at the time he believed they were valid. But after hearing Monday’s testimony, Yates said, “I don’t know what to believe.”

He said it wouldn’t surprise him if someone said McCrae Dowless was worth $10 million – or if he had been arrested last night driving home to Bladen County.

In the November general election, Harris got 420 absentee mail votes to McCready’s 258.

Yates said he thought the Harris campaign underperformed there.

Tweets by Sharrison_WFAE

Updated: 2:45 p.m.  

Andy Yates of the Red Dome Group is now answering questions.

The Red Dome Group is a political consulting firm hired by Republican Mark Harris during last year's campaign. The group paid McCrae Dowless to lead an aggressive effort to get Bladen County residents to vote absentee by mail. But Yates said Harris hired Dowless – not him. That’s consistent with what Harris has told WFAE and other media outlets.

Credit Raleigh News & Observer
Republican Mark Harris

Yates said Dowless was paid $5 for every absentee ballot form requested in the general election.

Yates said Dowless had told him about his absentee mail ballot "programs." He said Dowless told him that he and his employees never picked up absentee mail ballots — even if the voter was elderly.

Yates said he had no reason to be suspicious of Dowless' methods. 

"[Dowless sounded like someone] who knew the law well, sounded like someone who knew the county well," Yates said. "There were no red flags at all."

[Related Content: Mark Harris On Dowless Absentee Results: 'Why Would I Expect Success Was A Bad Thing?']

Yates said he didn't verify how many absentee ballot requests Dowless had generated. 

“He gave me updates all the time,” Yates said. “Sometimes his projections were off…they were projections. But his numbers seemed to make sense. Dr. Harris didn’t have questions…We had no reason to believe his numbers were off.”

"We took [Dowless] at this word," Yates continued. "Dr. Harris never asked me to verify it."

Yates got emotional when answering a question from elections board Executive Director Kim Strach about what he knew about McCrae Dowless illegally collecting absentee mail ballots.

“I was shocked and disturbed to learn that appears not to be the case,” Yates said about Dowless assuring him that he would not collect mail ballots. “I would have cut off all contact. I would have told Dr. Harris to fire him immediately. If he didn't do it, I would have resigned. I care deeply about our democracy. I wouldn't put up with that crap.”

Yates sounded angry at Dowless for jeopardizing Yates’s business.

This is the first time Yates has spoken about the fraud investigation. He had not even spoken to investigators until today.

Updated: 12:35 p.m.

Credit Raleigh News & Observer
NC Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach.

Bladen poll worker Agnes Willis was asked about her efforts to help people vote absentee by mail. Agnes, a Democrat, said she helped her cousin, Wanda Monroe, in being a witness for people voting with absentee by mail ballots. Willis said she was a witness for about nine voters.

Monroe, who is also a Democrat, was working for the Bladen Improvement PAC, a Democratic group. Like political operative McCrae Dowless (who was hired by Republican Mark Harris), Bladen Improvement also had an aggressive operation to encourage people to vote early by mail.

Board of Elections executive director Kim Strach asked Willis about one voter, Joseph Barr. Willis was a witness for Barr.

Strach said that Barr told investigators that Willis had picked up his absentee my ballot, and she asked Willis if that is true.

Willis said she did not pick up his mail ballot. She said she only acted as a witness.

She said Barr might have been confused because he is elderly.

Updated: 10:55 a.m.

Political reporter Steve Harrison gives an update on the second day of the 9th District hearing.

The second day of testimony in the 9th District Congressional hearing has focused on the possible premature release of early vote totals in Bladen County. State Democrats had raised concerns about a report that Bladen County elections officials may have broken state rules by counting early votes before Election Day in November.

The board is questioning Bladen County poll workers about poll closing practices, and specifically about who might have seen printed voting machines tapes. The “tape” is a computer printout of vote totals.

The first witness was Michele Maultsby, who worked at Bladen’s one early-vote site on the Saturday before the general election. She said she did not allow anyone to see the “tape” of early-vote results.

“Not on my watch,” she said.

The second witness is Mitchell Edwards. He said he did not know McCrae Dowless, and he only saw one race – the Bladen County Sheriff’s race. He said he didn’t see the early-vote results from the 9th Congressional District.

He said he ran the early-vote tape on Saturday because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” The early-vote results aren’t supposed to be tabulated until the day of the general election.

Mark Harris attorney David Freedman asked if anyone looked over his shoulder when he ran the tape.

“No,” Edwards said.

Updated: 10:25 a.m.

Credit Raleigh News & Observer
On the stand yesterday, Lisa Britt said Dowless tried to influence her testimony by instructing her to tell investigators she had done nothing wrong and take the 5th Amendment.

During hours of testimony yesterday, Lisa Britt — the stepdaughter of Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless — said he paid workers to illegally collect residents’ absentee ballots, and that workers regularly signed as witnesses for ballots they did see get signed. Dowless had been hired by Republican Mark Harris to lead an aggressive effort to get Bladen County residents to vote absentee by mail.

Britt said for every 50 request forms, she thinks she was paid $150 or $175, and received money for gas and food.

She also said workers forged some witness signatures and filled in down-ballot races on some ballots. Britt said that when she went door-to-door, she never tried to steer anyone on how to vote.

“It didn’t benefit us, the workers,” Britt said. She said Dowless employees weren’t paid based on how people voted, just how many ballots they collected.

Britt also said that after the Board of Elections declined to certify the race, Dowless asked that she and other employees come to his house.

She said he told them, "As long as we stick together we are fine, because they don't have anything on us."

She also alleged that Dowless tried to influence her testimony by instructing her to tell investigators she had done nothing wrong and take the 5th Amendment.

[Related Content: Dispatches: McCrae Dowless Refuses To Testify Unless Granted Immunity]

Meanwhile, Dowless declined to testify at yesterday’s hearing. His attorney said he would only testify if granted immunity.

The board rejected his immunity request, but said that state law allows them to draw “negative inferences” from his decision not to testify.