BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The North Carolina State Board of Elections released a lengthy report Wednesday on findings that could influence the investigation into election fraud in the 9th Congressional District.
The documents are related to a separate election fraud investigation from 2016 when McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the current investigation, was also accused of harvesting and tampering with absentee by mail ballots.
There were two investigations into absentee ballot irregularities that year.
One was based on a complaint filed by Dowless that implicated the Bladen Improvement Association, a rival organization to Dowless' Patriots for Progress. During the 2016 election, Dowless won a seat on the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District, but reported irregularities with absentee ballots in that race.
The other was based on a complaint filed by the challenger of sitting Bladen County Commissioner Ashley Trivette. Trivette’s challenger alleged her campaign had used methods of ballot harvesting to win the 2016 race. This complaint led investigators to look more closely at Dowless, who worked for Trivette.
State investigators developed information “strongly suggesting” that Dowless was paying people to solicit absentee request forms and absentee ballots. Among the investigative materials released Wednesday, an interview with two people who worked for Dowless illustrated an operation where they would receive $250 in exchange for 20 absentee requests each week.
In a written statement, Caitlin Croom wrote, “he (Dowless) told us not to let anyone know we were being paid based on how many req. form (sic) and ballots we got for him.”
Matthew Matthis, identified as the boyfriend of Croom who also worked for Dowless, shared text messages to Dowless' cell phone. The messages asked about a bonus for certain candidates who won in 2016 and a concern when state investigators reached out to them. Both Croom and Matthis shared that cell phone.
“They want to meet with me in the morning, im (sic) scared and I don’t remember half of what we are supposed to say. I’ve never been investigated for anything" stated one text message to Dowless. The material did not include a response from Dowless.
Ultimately, the state board dismissed the first complaint from Dowless, but referred the results of the investigation into the second complaint to prosecutors for further consideration.
The report from the NCSBE will be part of the board’s docket of records to be considered at a Jan. 11 hearing on the investigation, and is nearly 160 pages long.