Elections

With a hearing coming up in disputed 9th District, Harris wants to subpoena McCready

What’s the political controversy in North Carolina’s 9th district?

Here's an overview of the election fraud allegations in North Carolina's congressional 9th district.
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Here's an overview of the election fraud allegations in North Carolina's congressional 9th district.

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Election fraud investigation

Read more about the investigation into the 9th Congressional District

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A hearing on the disputed 9th District race could finally shed more light on the only undecided congressional race in the U.S., and Republican Mark Harris wants his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, to testify.

The newly appointed, five-member N.C. Board of Elections is scheduled to start the hearing Feb. 18 in Raleigh. The board is expected to vote at the conclusion of the meeting on whether to certify the election results — which showed Harris with a 905-vote lead over McCready — or order a new election.

In a letter to the board this week, Harris’ attorneys named 20 people they’re requesting subpoenas be issued for to compel their attendance and testimony at the hearing, including McCready. In a previous letter to the board, McCready asked the board to subpoena Harris, but only to compel his attendance, not testimony.

The bitterly fought race was thrown into disarray in November, when the previous board (which was dissolved in an unrelated legal dispute) refused to certify the results in the 9th District. Allegations of illegal absentee ballot-harvesting by McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative working for the Harris campaign, soon surfaced, with some voters saying they had turned over their ballots to people they didn’t know.

The Harris campaign is also asking the Board of Elections to release its investigative report to the public before the hearing, between Feb. 13 and 15. Briefs from both sides are due in the case by Feb. 12.

David Freedman, an attorney for the Harris campaign, said that so far they have not received any details about what the investigation has uncovered, and that they should have the chance to review those before the hearing.

“From a due process perspective and a fundamental fairness perspective, we should know what the investigation turned up,” said Freedman. “At this point there’s no specific notice as to what specific allegations there are we need to defend.”

A Board of Elections representative could not immediately be reached to answer if they are considering releasing the results of their investigative report before the hearing. The board was briefed on the investigation in a four-hour closed-session meeting Thursday.

McCready campaign spokesman Aaron Simpson said that regardless of the subpoena request, actions associated with the Harris campaign touched off the investigation.

“Unlike Mr. Harris, we’re happy to assist in this investigation in any way we can. There’s one campaign under investigation here, that’s the campaign belonging to Mark Harris,” Simpson said.

In their letter to the board, the Harris campaign said they want to subpoena McCready to testify about any personal knowledge he has of allegations that ballots were discarded, any payments his campaign made to election workers in Bladen and Robeson counties and any correspondence his campaign or the Democratic Party had with Board of Elections members.

The Harris campaign also wants to subpoena Jens Lutz, a former Bladen County elections board member, to testify about communications he reportedly had with the state board, as well as his former business relationship with Dowless. And Harris is seeking to subpoena Andy Yates, owner of the Cornelius-based Red Dome consulting firm that ran much of Harris’ campaign and employed Dowless as a subcontractor.

The Harris campaign is seeking Yates’ testimony about “campaign directions given to him by Mark Harris,” as well as other details on the election and get-out-the-vote strategies.

Most of the other people the Harris campaign is seeking to subpoena are Bladen County voters and residents who have previously talked about or provided affidavits about the alleged ballot-harvesting scheme by Dowless.

In correspondence with the previous board, the McCready campaign named 48 people they’re seeking to subpoena. They were not going to be subpoenaed to provide testimony, only to compel attendance, however. The McCready campaign said it wanted to preserve grounds for possible future prosecution of people involved in election fraud, which could be compromised if they were compelled to testify before the board and received a deal of some sort in exchange for their testimony.

McCready also sought to subpoena Yates, as well as N.C. GOP chairman Robin Hayes and executive director Dallas Woodhouse.

It’s possible that not all people who the campaigns seek subpoenas for will ultimately be subpoenaed, and not everyone who receives a subpoena may testify. Board of Elections chairman Bob Cordle will have discretion to limit the length of testimony, and the board has said, “Duplicative questioning will be severely restricted.”

Staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.

McCrae Dowless is at the center of controversy in North Carolina's 9th district, but most of the time he's stayed behind the scenes.

Follow more of our reporting on The North Carolina election fraud investigation

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Ely Portillo covers local and state government for the Charlotte Observer, where he has previously written about growth, crime, the airport and a five-legged puppy. He grew up in Maryland and attended Harvard University.
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