Twitter screenshot

The North Carolina State Board of Elections continued its hearings into pervasive absentee ballot fuckery in last fall's congressional election for a second day yesterday, and while the testimony wasn't quite as explosive as the first day's open admissions of ballot tampering, we learned a bit more about what the hell was going on behind the scenes. Today, the board will probably hear from Mark Harris, the "winning" Republican candidate in the 9th Congressional District. Harris has maintained all along that he knew nothing of any frauding, and keeps insisting he must nonetheless be certified as the winner because he got more votes and that's the will of the people, can't you idiots see that?

The big witness in Tuesday's hearing was Andy Yates, the head of political consulting firm Red Dome Group, the outfit that paid Leslie McCrae Dowless to direct Harris's absentee voting operation in Bladen and Robeson counties -- or so Yates thought, he said. Yates testified he had no idea Dowless might have been up to anything untoward, but also described an operation that was very loosely supervised. He also said that had he known any of the details that later came out about Dowless's super-fraudy absentee ballot tampering scheme, he would have either fired Dowless or, failing that, removed himself from the Harris campaign. Nothing! He knew NOTHING!

As for Dowless, the board won't be hearing at all from him, although it had subpoenaed him to be at Monday's hearing. The last item of business at Monday's hearing was Dowless saying, through his lawyer, that he wouldn't testify, citing his Fifth Amendment protection. Under North Carolina law, the board could have compelled his testimony, but only if it granted him immunity from prosecution, which the elections board elected not to do.

In addition to lots and lots of testimony in which he insisted he thought Dowless was running a clean operation, Yates had one genuine surprise in his testimony. It turns out that the Harris campaign had actually chosen Dowless to run its absentee vote operation before it contracted with Red Dome. Virtually all reporting on the NC 9 election has said that Dowless had been a contractor working for Red Dome Group, which is true on the surface, but Yates clarified yesterday the campaign's relationship with Dowless was a done deal before Yates got involved, and that Dowless's pay rate had already been established directly by the campaign. In fact, Yates testified, "At the time Dr. Harris told me about McCrae Dowless, I do not recall ever hearing his name before."

In addition to a monthly fee, Dowless was paid $4 for each absentee ballot request form his team collected and submitted during the 2018 primary, and then $5 for each request form in advance of the general election. The Charlotte Observer explains that arrangement is legal but a bit weird:

It's not illegal to collect absentee ballot request forms — just absentee ballots themselves. Paying a campaign worker per ballot request form is unusual, however, and Yates said he hadn't worked on any similar absentee ballot solicitation programs.

Yates also said Dowless was reimbursed for office expenses and employee pay without having to show any receipts, and that Dowless didn't have any written contract with Red Dome. He said that was just fine with the Harris campaign, because honor and trust and respect and shit:

"The Harris campaign was comfortable with that," said Yates. "No one asked for the documentation."

Yates said that Harris and Dowless spoke regularly and Harris was never uncomfortable with Dowless' lack of documentation.

"His word was good enough for Dr. Harris," said Yates. "He was in regular communication with Dr. Harris."

On top of all that, Yates testified that Dowless insisted on driving to Yates's office -- a good two-and-a-half to three-hour drive, to pick up his checks, because Dowless didn't trust checks being mailed. We half expect to hear next that he insisted on being paid in used, nonconsecutive twenties. Or gold. Can't beat gold!

As for Dowless's people messing around with the actual absentee ballots, which was detailed in Monday's sworn testimony, Yates insisted Dowless had told him his operation was 100 percent on the up and up, and that Dowless was very clear on what was allowed and what wasn't.

"He knew that was illegal and made sure all his folks knew that was illegal," Yates said Dowless told him of ballot-harvesting. "You could not take that ballot and walk to the mailbox ... he never touched one and his folks never touched one."

Yates said he was comfortable with Dowless during the campaign.

"No red flags. He sounded like someone who knew the law very well," Yates said. "He sounded like he had run all the traps."

Yates also said that if he'd had any idea there was voter fraud in Dowless's establishment, he'd have shut it down, after proclaiming he was shocked, SHOCKED:

Yates says he was unaware that Dowless paid people to collect ballots. "I was shocked and disturbed to learn that was the case." Says he would have cut off contact with Dowless if he learned that was the case. Says he would have called state board immediately.

"I never had any indication. Never had the first suspicion."

Dowless really yearned for hand-holding from his bosses, Yates said, and called him nearly every day. "He was a needy person who needed validation to know Dr. Harris was happy with him," Yates said, and noted that Dowless would get petulant if his calls weren't returned. And again, there's that secretiveness: Yates said Dowless preferred contact by phone, texted only rarely (and avoided specifics in texts), and never used email.

Then it was time for cross-examination by Marc Elias, the big deal attorney representing Dan McCready (the Democrat who "lost" the election to Harris). Elias focused on how much Yates (and Harris) knew about Dowless's reputation for sleazy operations. Yates said he'd been aware that in a 2016 congressional primary, Dowless managed -- in Bladen County only, huh! -- to run up a terrific absentee vote for a losing candidate, in which Dowless's guy received all but five of the absentee votes.

Yates said he didn't think that was unusual, and then insisted he also wasn't surprised by the results of the 2018 GOP primary either. Again, Bladen County was an absentee blowout, this time for Harris, who got 437 votes compared to just 17 for the Republican incumbent, Robert Pittenger. Nah, not surprising, said Yates, because after all, Dowless had done such a great job in that 2016 primary, it stood to reason he'd get good results again. That's some impressive, if circular, reasoning. Still, everyone knows a good ground game wins elections. Especially if some absentee ballots are being buried deep in the ground.

The hearing will continue today with more cross-examination of Yates, and then it should be Mark Harris's turn to say he never had any idea Mr. Dowless was running a dirty operation, but a little bit of cheating is no reason he shouldn't be seated in Congress.

[Charlotte Observer / Miles Parks on Twitter / Sam Levine on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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