News · Press Release

DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos Responds to Reports of Alleged Election Fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District

DCCC to continue providing legal support while the facts surrounding possible Republican election fraud are uncovered

DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos released the following statement in response to widespread reports of election impropriety that have delegitimized the results of the election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District:

“Americans’ confidence in the integrity of our elections is essential to our democracy, and the deeply troubling and extensive evidence of impropriety and potential election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District shakes that to its core. Widespread reports of direct connections between Mark Harris’s campaign and individuals committing election fraud must be investigated fully and appropriate steps should be taken to ensure voters’ ballots are counted, and counted correctly. The DCCC is committed to this mission and we will continue the aggressive legal strategy it has pursued throughout this election cycle to ensure that every American can cast a ballot and have that ballot counted.

 “The bottom line is this, if there proves to be fraud, then there must be consequences. The voters of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District should expect nothing less.” 



North Carolina election-fraud investigation centers on operative with criminal history who worked for GOP congressional candidate

Washington Post | Amy Gardner & Kirk Ross

 On Monday, the board issued a subpoena to the Harris campaign, according to campaign attorney John Branch. The board is expected to issue one soon to Red Dome Group, a GOP consulting firm based in the suburbs of Charlotte that hired Dowless, according to two people familiar with the probe.

The elections board has collected information suggesting that high-level officials in the campaign may have been aware of Dowless’s activities, according to the two people.


  A disproportionate number of unreturned ballots had been sent to voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic. Nearly 55 percent of ballots mailed to Native American voters and 36 percent mailed to African American voters were not returned, while the non-return rate among white voters in the district was just 18 percent, according to state records.


 Dowless, 62, who serves as vice chairman of the Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District, has a criminal record. Court records show he was convicted of fraud, perjury and passing a worthless check in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

 He first came under scrutiny from the state elections board in 2016, when officials began investigating similar ballot irregularities, leading to a public hearing.

 That year, in the 9th District primary election, Dowless was on the campaign payroll of Todd Johnson, a Union County insurance salesman who also won a curious number of the mail-in ballots in Bladen County: 211, compared with four for Harris, who was also a candidate that year, and just one for the incumbent, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R), records show. Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.


 In the spring [2018] primary, Harris defeated the incumbent, Pittenger, by fewer than 1,000 votes — thanks in part to winning an overwhelming 96 percent of Bladen County’s absentee mail-in ballots.


 Legions said one of the women urged her to fill out her name, Social Security number and signature. When that woman came back, “she just said, ‘I’ll take it,’ and I gave it to her.” The ballot wasn’t sealed, Legions said. Legions said she does not remember filling out the ballot but would have voted a straight Democratic ticket. State records show that her mail-in ballot was never returned to county elections officials.


 ‘Tangled web’ in Bladen County has questions swirling about votes in the 9th District

Charlotte Observer | Jim Morrill

 The allegations are apparently behind this week’s decision by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform to not certify the results of the congressional race in the 9th District.


 The man at the center of speculation about the alleged activities, McCrae Dowless, was paid by the Harris campaign as a contractor for the candidate’s top consultant.


 Wallace went on to say a review of public records “confirms that serious irregularities and improprieties may have occurred.” Bladen County had the highest percentage of absentee ballot requests in the state. There, 7.5 percent of registered voters requested absentee ballots. In most counties it was less than 3 percent.

 An analysis by Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer suggested more aberrations.

 In seven of the eight counties in the 9th District, for example, McCready won a lopsided majority of the mailed-in absentee ballots. But not in Bladen County. There, Republican Mark Harris won 61 percent even though registered Republicans accounted for only 19 percent of the county’s accepted absentee ballots.

 Unaffiliated voters accounted for 39 percent. Bitzer said Harris’ margin “could potentially come from all those unaffiliated voters.”

 “But to have each and every one of those unaffiliated voters vote Republican, that’s pretty astonishing,” he added. “If that’s the case, there’s a very concerted effort to use that method to one candidate’s advantage. . . . But at that level there’s something else beyond a concerted effort that could be at work.”

 In his letter to the board, Wallace included notarized affidavits from a handful of voters:

 ▪ Datesha Montgomery said that on Oct. 12, a woman came by her house and told her she was collecting absentee ballots. In the affidavit, Montgomery said she voted for two candidates: one for sheriff, the other for school board. The woman told her “the others were not important. I gave her the ballot and she said she would finish it herself. I signed the ballot and she left. It was not sealed up at any time.”

▪ Emma Shipman said a woman came to her house and told her she was assigned to collect absentee ballots. “I filled out the ballot while she waited outside and gave it to her. . . . She took the ballot and put it in an envelope and never sealed it or asked me to sign it. Then she left. . . . I thought she was legitimate.”

 ▪ Lucy Young said she received an absentee ballot even though she didn’t request one. She’d already voted early in person.


 Asked by text if he blamed his loss on any voting irregularities, Pittenger said, “Others can determine that. I won’t speculate.”

 “Look at the votes,” he added. “Follow the money.”

 Who is McCrae Dowless, man who appears to be center of 9th District investigation?

WSOC | Joe Bruno

Dowless has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s.

 Records show Dowless served six months in prison after being convicted of felony fraud charge in 1992. Dowless has also previously faced a charge for perjury.


As Channel 9 reported last week, Dowless was referenced in two affidavits that are now included in NCSBE’s investigation.

In one affidavit, a witness claims he overheard a person saying Dowless would be paid $40,000 for a Mark Harris victory.

Another man claims in an affidavit that Dowless told him he was doing “absentees” for the Mark Harris campaign and James McVicker’s campaign for Bladen County sheriff.

Campaign finance reports confirm the Bladen County sheriff paid Dowless at least $7,000. The purpose on campaign finance reports was listed as “get out to vote.”

Dowless does not appear on any campaign finance reports for Harris because he was working for Red Dome, a political consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign.

Records show the Harris campaign paid Red Dome more than $428,000. The disbursements are listed for admin and staff and grassroots.

 Allegations of G.O.P. Election Fraud Shake North Carolina’s Ninth District

New Yorker | Doug Bock Clark


 The board’s actions inspired J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College, near Charlotte, and a self-described “North Carolina politics data geek,” to reëxamine some of the voter returns. In Bladen and Robeson counties, Bitzer found that Harris won an unusually high share of mail-in absentee-ballot votes. Bladen was the only county where the Republican prevailed in the mail-in-absentee vote, winning sixty-one per cent of the votes from mail-in ballots—despite registered Republicans accounting for only nineteen per cent of the county’s returned absentee ballots. To achieve that margin, Harris would have needed to win not only all of the Republican ballots but almost every single mail-in vote from Independents, as well as a significant number of votes from crossover Democrats. Since posting his findings on his blog, Bitzer has been answering so many media calls that his voice has grown hoarse. “Now it feels more like an avalanche rather than the snowball effect,” he said. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

 It was not just the general election in which the numbers looked funny. Investigators are now looking into the Republican primary, in May, as well. Harris won with eight hundred and twenty-eight votes over the incumbent, Robert Pittenger, claiming ninety-six per cent of the absentee ballots in Bladen County—which was a far higher margin of victory than the rest of his totals in the county. Pittenger told Spectrum News on Thursday, “We were fully aware of [the accusations of fraud]. There are some pretty unsavory people, particularly out in Bladen County, and I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

 In the general election, Bitzer also found that, compared to other counties in the Ninth District, a much higher rate of mail-in absentee ballots requested in Bladen and Robeson counties—about forty per cent and sixty-two per cent, respectively—were never turned in. In fact, those two counties had the highest rates of unreturned absentee ballots of any district in North Carolina. And an analysis of the voting data by the Raleigh News & Observer found that “the unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters,” who tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. In Robeson County, seventy-five per cent of the absentee ballots requested by African-Americans and sixty-nine per cent of those requested by American Indians were never received by the state. On Friday, Harris tweeted, “There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.” But about sixteen hundred mail-in absentee ballots were requested in the two counties and not returned, in a race decided by fewer than a thousand votes. Nate Silver, a data journalist and the founder of, tweeted in response, “There ARE enough ballots in question in NC-9 to potentially affect the outcome.”

 “Was this just an anomaly of people requesting ballots and then deciding not to send them in?” Bitzer said. “Or is this evidence of a concerted effort to influence or impact the election?” Prior to the election, Bitzer told me, it would have been possible for someone interested in interfering with the election to determine through public records which voters had not yet returned requested absentee ballots. “So it would not be a stretch, if someone made a concerted effort to look at each day’s records, for that someone to find out where that particular voter lived, and then it would be easy enough to go and try to collect it themselves.” Such an action would not only be illegal because a ballot may be handled only by the voter who completes it but would also create the opportunity for electoral fraud. As Bitzer noted, “Let’s say, a voter handed over a ballot to a collector, and the voter had not secured it in a sealed envelope, and there was no vote in the congressional election. The collector could put a vote in. If there was a vote, but it was not for the right candidate, the collector could mark a vote for a second candidate and spoil the ballot.” But, Bitzer added, “These are hypotheticals. We just don’t know to say with certainty what happened. We’re trying to piece a puzzle together, and we may not even fully understand how many pieces are out there.”



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