Irregularities found in second North Carolina county in contested House race

ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. -- A CNN review of absentee ballot envelopes has found irregularities with witness signatures in a second North Carolina county.

Dozens of absentee ballots were witnessed by four people in Robeson County, which is adjacent to Bladen County -- the place investigations by the state elections board and state and local prosecutors had been focused.

The people who witnessed multiple ballots are loosely connected to Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative who is being investigated for alleged election fraud.

North Carolina law requires two witnesses to sign the envelopes of the absentee ballots. Usually, those witnesses are family members or friends. Investigators in North Carolina are looking into allegations that Dowless' group picked up unsealed ballots and either witnessed them and turned them in or threw them away.

One of them, Jennifer Boyd, signed 57 ballot envelopes, nearly 9% of all the absentee ballots that were cast in Robeson County. Another woman, Lisa Britt, who signed 28 of the Robeson ballots, also witnessed 42 ballots in Bladen County. Britt is the daughter of Dowless' ex-wife.

Unlike in Bladen County, Democrat Dan McCready won more of the absentee vote in Robeson County than Republican Mark Harris did.

North Carolina's 9th District race is the only undecided House race of 2018's midterm elections. Harris leads by 905 votes, but the state's elections board refused to certify the results after allegations of absentee ballot irregularities emerged.

Dowless, 62, is a veteran political operative in Bladen County with a criminal history. He pleaded guilty to felony insurance fraud in 1992. He has not returned CNN's requests for comment. He has denied any wrongdoing to The Charlotte Observer.

Campaign finance records show Dowless has been paid more than $23,000 by six campaigns over the last eight years -- and in most of those races, his candidates got disproportionately large numbers of absentee votes in Bladen County.

Harris' campaign paid the GOP consulting firm Red Dome Group more than $400,000 during the 2018 campaign -- and Red Dome Group paid Dowless.

Dowless was also paid $940 by the Bladen County GOP this year that they said was for get-out-the-vote efforts.

McCready had conceded to Harris, but on Thursday he withdrew his concession.

"Over the last week, we have seen the criminal activity come to light, and we have seen that my opponent, Mark Harris, has bankrolled this criminal activity," McCready told North Carolina's WSOC-TV. "And so as of today, I am withdrawing my concession to Mark Harris. And furthermore, I call on Mark Harris to tell the American people exactly what he knew and when he knew it."