RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina election officials on Tuesday were to hear a second day of evidence concerning what investigators called a Republican political operative’s scheme to tip a congressional race in his party’s favor with unlawful absentee ballots.
The probe into the disputed Nov. 6 election for the state’s 9th Congressional District seat uncovered a “coordinated, unlawful” and well-funded operation during the competitive race last year, a State Board of Elections official said on Monday as the hearing opened in North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh.
The seat has remained vacant since state officials refused to certify the apparent victory by Republican Mark Harris over Democratic rival Dan McCready by 905 voters out of 282,717 ballots cast. A finding of fraud could trigger a new election.
Kim Strach, executive director of the state elections board, on Monday said Republican operative Leslie McCrae Dowless hired workers to collect absentee ballot requests from voters and then return to retrieve the ballots, in violation of state law.
In some instances, the paid workers falsely signed as witnesses and filled in votes for races left blank at Dowless’ home or office, Strach said.
Strach and witnesses said Dowless instructed those working for him to avoid detection by delivering ballots in small batches to a post office close to the voters and using the same color ink for the voter and false witness signatures.
Dowless declined to testify on Monday after the board said it would deny him immunity.
His lawyer, Cynthia Adams Singletary, said afterward that “he hasn’t done anything wrong.” Harris has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
Under state law, the five-member elections board can call a new election if the number of contested votes would sway the original election or if there were doubts about the election’s fairness.
Alternatively, the board could certify Harris as the district’s Congress member, at which point the U.S. House of Representatives would determine whether to seat him.
North Carolina Republicans have pushed for the board to certify Harris, while Democrats want a new election.
If the Democrats pick up the seat, they would widen their 235-197 majority in the House after taking control of the chamber from President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the November election.
Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis
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