Mark Harris' son warned his father that Bladen Co. absentee ballots 'didn't add up'

Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Mark Harris' son testiifies at 9th district hearing
Mark Harris' son, John, had explosive testimony at the 9th district hearing on Wednesday.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Explosive testimony Wednesday brought a son to the stand to say he warned his father about potential problems with absentee ballots in Bladen County

That son was John Harris. He says he told Mark Harris during the 2016 Republican primary that the absentee votes in Bladen County didn't add up or make sense.

The testimony came on the third day of a North Carolina Board of Elections hearing about possible election fraud in the state's 9th Congressional District.

John Harris was unequivocal in describing when he warned his father, how he warned his father, and why he warned his father about the campaign worker at the center of the whole investigation.

A specific warning he gave his father was that the absentee ballots could come back to haunt him in a close race.

"I was right, unfortunately for all of us," John said.

However, John maintains that his father was not part of the absentee ballot scheme; he says Mark Harris was misled and lied to by McCrae Dowless.

Still, the testimony runs counter to the story told by Mark Harris for months--namely that he was blindsided by Dowless' conduct

What remains unclear is how much that revelation is going to matter to the Board of Elections. That's because the board needs to determine if the fraud would add up to more than 900 votes--which is Harris' current margin of victory.

Earlier in the day, political consultant Andy Yates continued his testimony from Tuesday.

Testimony continued to shed light on the scope of the absentee ballot scheme and what kind of impact, if any, it had on the race. That impact is what the North Carolina Board of Elections will have to evaluate.

The hearing into the alleged election fraud in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District entered day three on Wednesday.

The man at the center of the investigation, McCrae Dowless, refused to testify. Dowless is accused of spearheading the absentee ballot scheme.

Yates, the founder of Red Dome, spent hours on the stand Tuesday testifying. Red Dome is the political consulting firm that hired Dowless; Mark Harris' campaign hired Red Dome.

Yates maintains that he had no idea that Dowless was paying thousands of dollars to people to illegally collect and submit absentee ballots.

Yates also said Dowless' election fraud wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome of the election.

See a summary of Tuesday's hearing below.


Disarray in the administration of the country's last undecided congressional election was illustrated Tuesday when three poll workers testified some votes were counted days ahead of Election Day.

North Carolina's State Board of Elections heard the testimony as part of a hearing that could result in either a new election being called for the 9th District or the Republican candidate being declared the winner.

The testimony came a day after the board heard evidence the election was also marred by falsified signatures, disappearing documents, and blank ballots that were filled in by people hired by the Republican candidate.

The board heard Tuesday from Bladen County poll workers who admitted tallying results on the Saturday before Election Day when early, in-person voting ended.

That's contrary to proper practice. The poll workers, Agnes Willis and Coy Mitchell Edwards, said that while they and others could see who had the early lead in Bladen County sheriff's race, they didn't tell anyone.

That testimony contradicted the account of another poll worker, Michele Maultsby, who said earlier Tuesday that she never saw anyone view the tape listing the voting results that Saturday. Agnes Willis must have made an honest mistake when she said people saw the early voting totals, Maultsby said.

READ MORE: Coverage from Monday, the opening day of the hearing

State elections director Kim Strach said investigators didn't find evidence that anyone else was tipped off early about the vote totals. But the practice of early counting raises questions about the vulnerability of the county's voting results.

After the hearing ends, the state board will have to decide whether ballot fraud was unfortunate but tolerable, or whether to order a new election in the congressional district that runs from Charlotte through several counties to the east.

Strach testified Monday that a political operative hired by Republican Mark Harris led "a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" in last year's general election in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, which are part of the congressional district, state elections director Kim

The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., was called to testify Monday, but his attorney refused to put him on the stand without legal protection against prosecution for events he described. The board refused.

The first of what could be a days-long hearing produced Dowless' workers testifying that they sometimes filled in votes on unfinished, unsealed mail-in ballots. But there was scant evidence that Harris knew about it or even benefited.

Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results. But the race wasn't certified in November after rumors of Dowless' operation focusing on mail-in ballots. The elections board is expected to either declare a winner or order a new election after the hearing.

Dowless was hired to produce votes for Harris and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker, but his methods last year included paying people to visit potential voters who had received absentee ballots and getting them to hand over those ballots, whether completed or not, Dowless worker Lisa Britt testified Monday.

It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter's ballot because of the risk that it could be altered before being counted.

Britt testified she collected about three dozen sometimes unfinished ballots and handed them to Dowless, who kept them at his home and office for days or longer before they were turned in, said Britt, whose mother was formerly married to Dowless.

While the congressional and sheriff's races were almost always marked by voters who turned in unsealed ballots, Britt said she would fill in down-ballot local races - favoring Republicans - to prevent local elections board workers from suspecting Dowless' activities.

Dowless paid local people like Britt $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in Bladen and Robeson counties and turned in to him, Strach said.

The operation's scope allowed Dowless to collect nearly $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year's general election, said Strach, adding that in addition to reviewing financial and phone records, investigators questioned 142 voters in the south-central North Carolina counties.

Four of the five members on the elections board - composed of three Democrats and two Republicans - would need to agree a new election is necessary.

If that doesn't happen, McCready's lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated - arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members.