The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement released documents Wednesday saying that McCrae Dowless, the political operative at the center of an investigation into alleged ballot fraud in Bladen County, attempted to "obstruct" a state investigation into absentee mail fraud in the county two years ago.
The report — written in January — also said Dowless coached two people who had worked for him on what to tell investigators who contacted them.
Elections investigators also wrote that the two employees, Caitlyn Croom and Matthew Matthis, said that Dowless paid them half of their money when they got voters to request absentee mail ballot requests. The two people told investigators that they would receive the rest of their money when they returned the ballots to Dowless.
Mattis told investigators that Dowless usually liked to speak to people in person, possibly because he was worried about being recorded on the telephone.
In North Carolina, it's illegal to collect or "harvest" someone's completed absentee ballot. That's the focus of this year's investigation into fraud in the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
In the report, Mattis wrote a statement to investigators: "He told us not to let anyone know we were being paid based upon the number of ballots we brought him, and to tell people, if they asked, that we're being paid for our time and gas."
Croom wrote: "He told us not to tell anyone that we were being paid based on how many req. forms and ballots we got for him. Also during this time, I witness a document that was forged. I had knowledge of the forging (sic). I know this was wrong and I regret it."
The documents released Wednesday show how much the state board knew about Dowless and his operation in 2016 - and they raise questions about why they voted to certify the May 2018 primary, in which Republican Mark Harris defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger by 828 votes.
In that race, 22 percent of Bladen County voters voted absentee by mail, which was by far the highest percentage in the 9th Congressional District. In addition, Harris won 96 percent of those votes. Dowless worked for Harris in both the primary and general election.
Pittenger has said there are "unsavory" people in Bladen County, and the Washington Post has reported that he refused to hire Dowless for his campaign. He didn't comment Wednesday about the state board's newest documents, which show how much they knew about Dowless.
State Sen. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican, said it was "inconceivable" that the state board decided to certify the May 2018 GOP primary, after having information from the 2016 investigation and seeing the unusual results.
He said the board's decision not to certify the race in which the Democrat lost as possibly "selective enforcement."
Wednesday's release of documents gives more information about the 2016 investigation.
The report says Dowless allegedly instructed his employees in 2016 to "push" voters to support certain candidates.
For that election, they included Donald Trump, Pat McCrory, as well as candidates in local races, like Republican Commissioner Ray Britt.
A sample ballot that Croom and Mattis were used to helping people vote did not tell people to vote for Pittenger in that year's Congressional race. Pittenger had not hired Dowless.
Mattis told investigators that when he brought Dowless ballots, Dowless would ask him whether the people had voted how he wanted them to.
The investigators took screenshots of a cell phone that Mattis and Croom shared.
The two texted Dowless, whom they called "McCrae Boss Man" in their contacts list.
At one point, they texted Dowless asking him if he was serious that they would get a bonus if two local candidates won their races.
"I'm just asking if you were serious....we are as broke as a bad joke."
On Nov. 18, 2016, they texted Dowless again.
"Hey McCrae, that weird number was the investigators. They called me again today. They want to meet with me in the morning. I'm scared and I don't remember half of what we're supposed to say. I've never been investigated for anything."
In this year's November general election, Dowless worked for Harris to get out of the vote in Bladen County. Harris is leading McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the race until elections staff finishes its investigation. The board will hold a public evidentiary hearing on the case on Jan. 11.
An attorney for Dowless, Cynthia Adams Singletary, sent the state board an e-mail Wednesday saying he would not sit down for questions in the case.
This is a developing story and will be updated.