- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2019

North Carolina’s elections director on Monday presented evidence of fraud uncovered in a House race that state officials are struggling to resolve nearly three months after the 2018 midterms.

Elections Director Kim Strach presented documents and witness testimony of what she called “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”

The alleged scheme linked to Republican candidate Mark Harris has kept the election outcome in limbo and the state’s 9th Congressional District seat empty since the 116th Congress convened Jan. 3.

In bombshell testimony before the State Board of Elections, a woman said she was paid to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters, and another woman said she handed over a signed blank ballot.

“I was told if I didn’t fill it out, it would be filled out for me,” Kimberly Robinson said in sworn testimony. She also said she previously had let someone else fill out her ballot because she was “not familiar with politics.”

Allegations that absentee ballots were illegally collected and tampered with kept the previous Board of Elections from certifying the Nov. 6 results that showed Mr. Harris beating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

The McCready campaign has alleged that ballots were altered or destroyed.

The evidence presented so far did not indicate that votes were changed to help Mr. Harris or that the scheme impacted the outcome.

Ms. Strach said more evidence is coming.

“It’s not just about those that have been returned. It’s potentially about those that haven’t been returned,” she said.

The investigation of absentee ballots focused on Bladen and Robeson counties, located in the southeast portion of the district, south of Fayetteville.

The 9th District stretches across south-central North Carolina from Charlotte to Fayetteville. The district has voted Republican since 1963.

At the hearing in Raleigh, Lisa Britt testified she took part in the operation and was paid $125 for every 50 ballots collected. Her pay was adjusted to $200 per week after voters frequently refused to turn over their ballots, she said.

She had met Mr. Harris, including at a peanut festival parade, but said she didn’t think he knew about the operation.

“I think Mr. Harris was completely clueless as to what was going on,” Ms. Britt said.

The newly appointed board is expected to decide this week whether to certify the Nov. 6 tally or order a new election.

The hearing will continue Tuesday.

In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone other than a designated guardian or close relative to handle another person’s absentee ballot.

But that’s what political operatives linked to the Harris campaign did, said Ms. Strach.

Red Dome Group, a consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign, contracted political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless to run the absentee ballots operation, according to testimony.

Mr. Dowless was called to testify but invoked his right under state law not to take the stand unless granted immunity from prosecution.

Confusion and uncertainty have dominated since the previous nine-member Election Board refused to certify the results.

A three-judge panel dissolved the board due to an unrelated matter, though the board’s staff led by Ms. Strach continued to investigate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to seat anyone when Congress convened last month. She stopped short of using House authority to call a new election, saying state officials should resolve the matter.

Mr. Harris also went to court to force the board to certify his win but was rebuffed by the judge.

Late last month, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, appointed the new five-member board consisting of three Democrats and two Republicans. State law allows the party in power to have the majority on the board.

To settle the issue this week, it will take three votes to certify the election and four to order a new election.

It is anyone’s guess what happens next if the board deadlocks on the two questions.

Mr. Harris wants the board to certify him within 10 days if it cannot resolve the issue in a vote. Mr. McCready prefers kicking it to the Democrat-run U.S. House, which has final say over seating members, to decide whether to call a new election.

While on the stand, Ms. Britt, whose mother previously was married to Mr. Dowless, said that Mr. Dowless instructed her to deny any wrongdoing and invoke the Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Saying she now knows that what she did was wrong, Ms. Britt said there was only one innocent person caught up in this mess.

“He’s the one getting the wrong end of the deal here and that is Mr. Mark Harris,” she said.

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