FILE PHOTO: Mark Harris attends a debate between the four top-polling Republican candidates in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate, at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Davis Turner/File Photo
(Reuters) – North Carolina’s board of elections identified political consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless as a person of interest on Friday amid a probe of possible absentee ballot fraud in a disputed U.S. congressional election.
The board has refused to certify Republican Mark Harris as the winner of the Nov. 6 election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as it investigates possible fraud involving absentee ballots from two rural counties.
In a statement, the board said it has assigned four investigators to the probe and issued subpoenas to the Red Dome Group, a consulting firm that Dowless performed work for, along with the Harris campaign committee and the campaign for a local Bladen County sheriff candidate.
Residents in rural Bladen County have provided sworn affidavits that people came to their homes to collect absentee ballots they had not filled in. In North Carolina, it is illegal for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
Two women have told WSOC-TV in North Carolina that Dowless paid them to collect absentee ballots and deliver them to him. Dowless worked for the Red Dome Group, the station reported. Neither Dowless nor Red Dome has responded to requests for comment.
If fraud is uncovered, the board could order a new election. Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes last month, but McCready on Thursday withdrew his concession.
Harris, in a video posted on Twitter on Friday, said: “I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing.”
The Republican said his campaign was cooperating with the state investigation and he would support a new election if the probe finds proof of illegal activity that could have changed the outcome of the vote.
Reporting by Grant Smith in New York; Writing by John Whitesides in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis