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NC Election Officials Sounded Alarm About Alleged Election Fraud to Federal Prosecutors in January 2017
Friday, 21 December 2018 13:35

Excerpt: "North Carolina state election officials told federal prosecutors in January 2017 that they found evidence of efforts to manipulate the absentee ballot vote in rural Bladen County in the 2016 election and warned that such activities 'will likely continue for future elections' if not addressed, according to correspondence obtained Friday by The Washington Post."

Investigators are scrutinizing whether North Carolina GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris knew a campaign operative may have used improper tactics. (photo: Chuck Burton/AP)
Investigators are scrutinizing whether North Carolina GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris knew a campaign operative may have used improper tactics. (photo: Chuck Burton/AP)


NC Election Officials Sounded Alarm About Alleged Election Fraud to Federal Prosecutors in January 2017

By Amy Gardner and Beth Reinhard, The Washington Post

21 December 18

 

orth Carolina state election officials told federal prosecutors in January 2017 that they found evidence of efforts to manipulate the absentee ballot vote in rural Bladen County in the 2016 election and warned that such activities “will likely continue for future elections” if not addressed, according to correspondence obtained Friday by The Washington Post.

In a Jan. 30, 2017, letter addressed to then-U. S. Attorney John Bruce of the Eastern District of North Carolina, Kim Strach, the executive director of the State Board of Elections, said the agency had conducted a “lengthy investigation” of alleged absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County.

“Our findings to date suggest that individuals and potentially groups of individuals engaged in efforts to manipulate election results through the absentee ballot process,” Strach wrote. “The evidence we have obtained suggest that these efforts may have taken place in the past and if not addressed will likely continue for future elections.”

The letter raises fresh questions about whether federal investigators took any actions to scrutinize the complaints.

Similar charges have roiled this year’s race in the 9th Congressional District between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris defeated McCready by just 905 votes, but the state board declined to certify the results amid allegations that fraud may have tainted the outcome.

Spokespersons for the current U.S. attorney, Robert Higdon, who was confirmed in October 2017, have declined repeated requests for information about what actions the office has taken. On Friday, spokeswoman Leslie Hiatt said in an email that “our office has no comment.”

Bruce, a career prosecutor who served as the acting U.S. attorney for less two years, now works as a deputy counsel supervising investigations for the State Board of Elections. Through a spokesman, Bruce declined to comment on the 2017 referral from the state board, citing Department of Justice rules prohibiting employees from discussing confidential information learned while working at the federal agency.

Bruce is not involved in the state board’s investigation of the 2016 allegations, but he has participated in the probe of 2018 election irregularities, according to Josh Lawson, the state board’s general counsel.

The 2017 letter surfaced amid accusations this week by Republican leaders in North Carolina that the state elections board did not adequately investigate past allegations of fraud in Bladen County.

“The agency investigated vigorously in support of future action by law enforcement to aviod a repeat of alleged misconduct,” Lawson told The Post Friday.

The campaign operative at the center of the investigation, Leslie McCrae Dowless, was tapped by Harris for his 2018 campaign, despite warnings that Dowless was under suspicion of using questionable tactics to deliver votes in past elections, The Post previously reported.

Harris sought out Dowless after losing a 2016 primary election in which Dowless had helped one of Harris’s opponents win an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote in a key county.

In this year’s GOP congressional primary, Harris won an unusual share of the absentee-ballot vote, defeating incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger.

State and local investigators have said that whether Harris knew that his campaign may have engaged in improper tactics has become a focus of the expanding probes into whether election irregularities affected the 9th District election.

Alice Crites and Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

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