© 2024 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NC Elections Investigators Turn Over 'Voluminous' Files On 2018 Probe

The News & Observer
McCrae Dowless (pictured) has been arrested on charges related to the November 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election. He could face additional charges from the November 2018 election.

North Carolina Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach and her chief investigator on Tuesday gave Wake County's district attorney documents and information from the state's probe of absentee mail fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties from the November election, a elections board spokesperson said.

"It is voluminous," said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman Wednesday in an interview with WFAE. "(The board) interviewed over 100 witnesses and have 1,000 pages on documents. I think we are at best 60 to 90 days from any prosecutorial action if that's where we end up."

On Feb. 27, a grand jury indicted Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless and four other people — Caitlyn E. Croom, Matthew Mattis, Tonia Gordon and Rebecca Thompson.

[Related Content: Political Operative McCrae Dowless Arrested, Charged In 9th District Probe]

Dowless was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, two charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two charges of possession of absentee ballot. The four others were charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of an absentee ballot.

Those five cases are from the 2018 primary election and the 2016 general election — not the November 2018 general election.

Freeman said her office is now focused on the 2018 general election. That could mean Dowless could be charged with additional felonies, as well as his employees. Freeman said that could also include people who "were involved with financing the operation."

In February, the elections board held a four-day evidentiary hearing that focused on the November election, mostly on the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.

The board voted unanimously to hold a new election in the district. A five-day filing period will begin Monday, the primaries will be May 14.

Elections board investigators said Dowless ran an illegal absentee mail ballot scheme to benefit Harris, who hired him.

[Related Content: What You Need To Know About The 9th District]

During the hearing, one Dowless employee, Lisa Britt, testified that she collected completed absentee mail ballots for Dowless. That's illegal in North Carolina.

Credit The News & Observer
Former Dowless employee Lisa Britt testified that she illegally collected absentee ballots in the 9th District race.

Britt said Dowless told her ways to conceal her collection of ballots. When signing as a voter witness, Britt said Dowless told her to use the same color pen ink as the voter. She also testified that Dowless told her not to place a stamp on a return envelope upside down because that could attract attention from the elections board.

Britt has not been charged.

"There have been no agreements with anyone who cooperated or testified at the hearing," Freeman said. "There have been no representations to them that there would be any specific outcome. We have offered no one immunity."

She said people who "cooperate and take responsibility early tend to fare better in the criminal justice system — but I don't think that equates to people avoiding criminal prosecution."

Freeman said people have asked her why she hasn't sought indictments against Britt.

"The state board having access (to her statements) is not the same thing as the State Bureau of Investigation having access to it," she said. 

The board of elections has declined to make public the interview notes and other information from its investigation, saying it's an open criminal probe.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.