A former election official in Bladen County, North Carolina, has given state officials new evidence of election fraud in a congressional district under scrutiny.
In a sworn statement to the state elections board last week, Jens Lutz, the former vice chair of the Bladen County board of elections, said his office received “several” forged request forms for absentee ballots during the 2018 election ― including one on behalf of a dead person.
Lutz’s statement is significant because state investigators are probing irregularities with absentee ballots in the area. The congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th District is the last unresolved one in the country. Republican Mark Harris unofficially leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but state officials can order a new election if they find sufficient evidence the contest was tainted by fraud or irregularities.
In the affidavit, Lutz, who resigned from the Bladen County board of elections earlier this month, said officials received forged requests for absentee ballots. Some of the forged requests were made on behalf of relatives of board members, including Cynthia Shaw, the county’s director of elections. Lutz said that McCrae Dowless, a political operative and a person of interest in the investigation, had a close relationship with Shaw, who resigned from the Bladen County board of elections in November.
“In the course of our supervisory duties, we discovered that several forged absentee ballot request forms were submitted for the 2018 general election, including one request form on behalf of a deceased person, another submitted on behalf of a relative of fellow Board member Bobby Ludlum, and another submitted on behalf of a relative of Ms. Shaw,” Lutz wrote in his affidavit, which was submitted to the state board by lawyers for the McCready campaign and made public Sunday evening.
Lutz does not say in the affidavit how many forged request forms the board received. He did not immediately respond to an interview request Monday.
In his affidavit, Lutz said Shaw had discussed the request form from the deceased person with Dowless instead of notifying state officials.
“When I asked Ms. Shaw whether she had provided the State Board of Elections with the absentee ballot request form that had been submitted on behalf of the deceased individual, she informed me that she had not and that she had instead contacted Mr. Dowless and talked to him about it,” Lutz said, according to the document. “I had previously provided a copy of the request form and a copy of the death certificate to the State Board of Elections.”
An attorney representing Dowless did not respond to a request for comment.
Dowless, who worked for Harris’ campaign, appears to have hired people to go out and collect absentee ballots from voters, which is not permitted under North Carolina law. Lutz said in his affidavit that Dowless used a provision in North Carolina’s open records law to see when absentee ballots would be sent to voters, which would allow him to send workers to collect their ballots shortly after they arrived. Harris personally approved hiring Dowless because of his expertise working on absentee ballots.
Lutz has a previous relationship with Dowless. The two men started a political consulting group in 2014, according to The Charlotte Observer. Lutz told WECT he had long been suspicious of Dowless, and claims he started the company to keep an eye on him.
In his affidavit, Lutz said that in previous years, it was his understanding that Bladen County election officials allowed Dowless to inspect unredacted absentee ballot request forms, giving him access to Social Security numbers, state driver’s licenses and state identification numbers as well as voter signatures. That information, Lutz said, would allow Dowless to request an absentee ballot from anyone who had submitted one in the past.
McCready’s campaign has also submitted affidavits to the state board from 14 voters who reported unusual, and potentially illegal, actions involving absentee ballots. Five voters said they had learned their names appeared on a list of voters who requested absentee ballots, even though they had never submitted a request for one. Some of those voters reported they gave their ballots ― some of which were unsealed ― to Dowless and other people who came to their homes. It is illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a close relative to take custody of an absentee ballot.
Other voters said in their affidavits that they received absentee ballots in the mail, even though they never requested them.
In 2016, two Dowless employees told state investigators they were paid to request and collect absentee ballots. The state board of elections notified federal and state prosecutors of the evidence in early 2017, warning it was likely to happen again if it wasn’t addressed. No charges were ever filed.
There is also a suggestion that early vote totals may have been leaked in Bladen County. Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, has said the party would support a new election if early vote tallies were leaked and if it could have affected the outcome of the race. Woodhouse said earlier this month he was “fairly certain” early vote totals had been leaked.
North Carolinians can vote early either in person or through the mail. In his affidavit, Lutz said Shaw could have easily viewed the mail-in absentee numbers using a thumb drive. He also said security at the board’s office was “lax” and the key to the room where absentee ballots were kept was left hanging on the wall.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the irregularities on Jan. 11 and then decide whether to order a new election.