BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - District Attorney Jon David said he recused his office from investigating allegations of absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County in 2016 and referred the matter to the State Bureau of Investigation and the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, hinting that targets in the alleged incidents two years ago are likely involved in the November election irregularities.
David said he is “deeply troubled” by recent reports of the alleged fraud in Bladen County during last month’s elections and said any behavior to undermine fair elections should be thoroughly investigated and vigorously prosecuted.
“During the 2016 election cycle, complaints about (fraud involving absentee ballots) were made to the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement team,” David said in a news release. The state board, partnering with the SBI to expand the probe, determined that some of the offending behavior occurred in Wake County, David said.
David, in a Jan. 26 letter to SBI Special Agent Dirk German, said he eventually referred the case to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office once he learned that some of the targets in the open investigations centered around political operatives that worked for the campaigns of his past opponents.
David specifically mentions McCrae Dowless, who is at the center of allegations over mail-in absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County which has led the N.C. Board of Elections to twice delay the certification of the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The final unofficial results show Harris winning by 905 votes.
According to documents, a witness claimed that Dowless said he did “absentee” work for the Harris campaign.
The state board will hold an investigative hearing later this month due to the allegations.
According to David, Dowless spearheaded a “get out the vote” effort in 2010 for Harold “Butch” Pope, who unsuccessfully ran against David for district attorney. David, in his letter to the SBI agent, also mentions the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, claiming the group was rumored to have packaged a “considerable” number of votes for Rex Gore, David’s opponent in 2006.
Also in the letter, David said there was an open investigation into the Patriots for Progress PAC for “possible absentee ballot fraud” from 2016. Dowless founded the group in 2014 but later left. It’s unclear what role, if any, Dowless currently has with the group.
“These groups package the anticipated ability to garner absentee ballots as a commodity to be brokered,” David wrote in the letter. "As a candidate, I have never engaged the services of any group to get out the vote and as a district attorney I have been outspoken in my criticism of their efforts.
“Given my personal history with both of these groups in general, and Mr. Dowless in particular, I perceive a conflict of interest in my office handling this perspective litigation.”
Dowless filed a protest after the November 2016 elections against the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC alleging the group conducted a “massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots.” Dowless' protest was dismissed a month later by the state board of elections, saying there weren’t enough votes to change the outcome of the election.
However, the board unanimously voted to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh.
David said his office is in close conversation with the Wake County District Attorney’s Office as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina to coordinate their efforts should a prosecution be warranted.