Unsealed ballots collected in US House race

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 Steve Harrison  WFAE

View Slideshow Steve Harrison WFAE

The race wasn't certified, but the elections board is expected to either declare a victor or order a new election after the hearing.

But the US House of Representatives seat has remained vacant as state officials have refused to certify Harris's apparent victory after voters said the Harris campaign team had collected their incomplete absentee ballots. The hearing resumes on Tuesday.

In the unofficial tally for the 9th District race, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. She said she'd done the same thing in previous elections, trusting Dowless would make good choices.

Harris won 61 percent of the vote-by-mail ballots in Bladen, despite only 19 percent of the voters who voted by mail being registered Republican.

"Basically what we would do - what I would do - is to submit the vote for whoever was the Republican", Britt testified.

State election law prohibits anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle mail-in ballots.

Dowless was called to testify late Monday, but his attorney said he wouldn't do it without legal protection against prosecution for events he described.

On Monday, two of the women who were recruited by Dowless testified that they were paid $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in Bladen and Robeson counties from voters.

Britt said that most of the ballots had the congressional race and sheriff's race filled out, as those were the major elections that topped the ballots.

But that is exactly what they did, said Ms. Britt, a paroled felon.

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That's where investigators confiscated a napkin he'd used and tossed in the trash, according to police. Several members of Childs' family were at the hearing in Hennepin County District Court.

Britt testified that she did not believe Harris had any knowledge of the operation.

Levine also reports that Britt told the board that she believes that she did do something wrong under Dowless' instructions, although she insists that candidate Mark Harris, whose campaign benefited from the scheme, was completely unaware of what was happening.

The operation's scope allowed Dowless to collect almost $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year's general election.

The letter seen on the text said, "I can tell you that I haven't done anything wrong in the election and McCrae Dowless has never told me to do anything wrong, and to my knowledge he has never done anything wrong, but I am taking the 5th Amendment because I don't have an attorney and I feel like you will try to trip me up".

According to investigators, Dowless paid workers cash to collect absentee request forms, to falsify absentee ballot witness certifications and to collect absentee ballots. That means they could have been altered before being counted. But a CNN review in the 9th District race found three witnesses signed more than 40 ballots each, another signed 30 and three other people signed more than 10 apiece.

"Clearly, the illegal absentee ballot harvesting scheme employed by the Harris for Congress campaign has tainted the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness", said the group's executive director, Gerrick Brenner.

Strach was expected to touch on the unreturned ballots later in the hearing.

Dowless and Harris both attended Monday's hearing in Raleigh.

Republicans have pushed for that outcome, while Democrats want a new election.

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