With less than a month before the 116th Congress convenes, more evidence surfaced Tuesday in North Carolina which points to the strong possibility of election fraud involving supporters of a victorious GOP candidate for the U.S. House, as more people acknowledged being paid to collect absentee ballots, while a top Democrat in the Congress raised red flags as to whether Republican Mark Harris will take his seat in January, saying there is a 'very substantial question' as to the integrity of the Ninth District tally.
The latest revelations focus on absentee ballots requested in Bladen County, North Carolina, where WSOC-TV found an unusual circumstance where the same group of people signed as witnesses on 159 different ballots.
Under North Carolina law, the gathering of absentee ballots by a third party is not allowed; election experts questioned the results when figures showed that Harris won Bladen County with 61 percent of the absentee by mail ballots cast in that county - even though the ballots came from voters who were only 19 percent registered Republican.
On Monday and Tuesday, reporter Joe Bruno with WSOC-TV in Charlotte, was able to interview people who said they had been paid to gather up ballots before the election, where Harris won by just 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.
One reason the allegations of election fraud have been uncovered is the detailed public records available under North Carolina election law, which has allowed reporters to track down the people who requested ballots, and under what circumstances they were collected.
"NC is perhaps one of the most transparent states in the country," tweeted Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida.
"This was fraud perpetrated by campaign operatives," McDonald said. "Election fraud might be a better way to phrase it."
In Bladen County, the absentee ballot seems to have been run by a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who paid money to people to help him collect the ballots. Dowless was hired by an outside consulting firm, which was working for the Harris campaign
When asked by WSOC-TV about paying people to pick up ballots before the election, Dowless said that he had no comment.
Questions have not only been raised about absentee ballot efforts by the Harris campaign in the November election, but also in the 2016 GOP primary, when Harris received over 95 percent of the absentee votes in Bladen County, as he narrowly defeated the incumbent, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC).
The North Carolina Board of Elections has pledged to hold a public hearing on the matter by December 21, as the board has refused to certify the results of the November elections.
Without a certificate of election, Harris would not be able to take his seat in the 116th Congress in January; even if the board approves him, the House - soon to be under the control of Democrats - could refuse to seat Harris, and conduct its own investigation.
"If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris' being seated until that is resolved," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.
"The House has, as you know, the authority over the propriety of the election," Hoyer told reporters at a regular press briefing. "This is a very substantial question."
One other possibility is that the North Carolina state elections board could order a new election for that U.S. House seat as well.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.