Irregularities found in 2nd NC county in disputed House race

Arturo Kim
December 9, 2018

Dowless earned more than $23,000 working on six campaigns dating back to 2010, and in most of those races, Dowless' candidates received a disproportionately higher percentage of absentee votes in Bladen County.

"I think the Democrats, they're the ones that figured it out and were far more successful in '18, in this election, than the Republicans ever were", he said.

Dowless personally turned in 592 of the 1,341 total absentee ballots requested in Bladen County.

But the board peppered Dowless with questions about his own absentee ballot activities.

Dowless, who told the Charlotte Observer that he did not commit any wrongdoing, declined to comment Thursday.

Pelosi said such a decision would be preceded by a House Administration Committee investigation. The board could ultimately order another election. Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker wrote in a newsletter last month that Republicans must "develop a response to this new law that allows us to remain competitive". But election officials have not certified the race due to concerns about irregularities and possible fraud involving mail-in ballots. Dowless, moreover, may have been running schemes like this for years, financed partially by contributions from the Bladen County Republican Party.

There is no evidence that the irregularities in absentee ballot returns changed the outcome of the race. McVicker did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday and his office said he was unavailable.

A congressional candidate for whom Dowless reportedly worked in 2016 also performed extremely well in absentee voting, despite finishing third in the race. The state board of elections dismissed his complaint.

It is the latest wrinkle in an election mess that left the 9th District as the last undecided House race of 2018.

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Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss. It also didn't certify the results of the Bladen County Commissioner District 3 and in Robeson County the District Court 16B Seat 2 race between Republican Jack Moody and Democrat Vanessa Burton.

"That investigation is ongoing and encompasses now those 2016 and 2018 election cycles and focuses on what appear to be absentee ballot irregularities", Freeman said.

"There's some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County", Pittenger said in a local TV interview. She also said she is in communication with federal authorities, but did not offer more details. It's unclear how many ballots could be affected and if any ballots were actually tampered with. Dowless has a felony criminal record. Similar conflicts have erupted in Texas, home to what was the nation's strictest identification law until North Carolina passed its version in 2013. Usually, those witnesses are family members or friends. "If people were going around and collecting the ballots, and the ballots were not secured and either manipulated or done away with, then that might, potentially, be part of it". Britt is the daughter of Dowless' ex-wife.

NPR reached Dowless by phone on Thursday.

Top state Republican officials said Thursday they could support a new election in the 9th Congressional District only if the board uncovers "an overwhelming amount of evidence" that fraud changed the outcome of the vote or that "there is a substantial likelihood that it could have been (changed)".

Shipman said she doesn't know who she voted for.

But he said there was "a lot of angst" among his campaign aides, who "were all upset about what happened".

The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is looking into the irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties, neighboring rural jurisdictions near the SC border, where 40 percent and 62 percent of absentee ballots, respectively, weren't returned.

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