Carolina Journal‘s Dan Way reports:

The political operative at the heart of the 9th Congressional District scandal won’t tell his story under oath — yet.

McCrae Dowless, the main person of interest in an alleged ballot harvesting ring that helped Republican Rev. Mark Harris defeat Democrat Dan McCready in November, appeared under subpoena at a State Board of Elections evidentiary hearing Monday but refused to testify.

Cynthia Singletary, Dowless’ attorney, said her client would testify only if he were granted immunity from prosecution. When Elections Board Chairman Bob Cordle said the board wasn’t willing to offer that option, Singletary withdrew the offer to testify and Dowless was dismissed.

Lisa Britt, whose mother was married to Dowless from 1991-93, gave the most damaging testimony against him. Britt offered insider details and admitted she and Dowless acted improperly if not illegally. She didn’t realize she was breaking the law at first, she testified, and continued doing the work even after she learned it was wrong.

Britt, who couldn’t vote because of a felony drug sales conviction, said Dowless paid her $150 to $175 in cash for every 50 absentee ballot applications she obtained, along with food and gas money. She and her two children lived with Dowless during the election period.

Under North Carolina law only a voter, immediate family, or legal guardian may help with an absentee ballot. It’s unlawful for third parties to fill out, collect, and submit them.

Britt said she and others working for Dowless turned in all their absentee ballots to him. She said she didn’t know what Dowless did with them, but had no reason to believe he discarded any.

By law absentee ballots are supposed to be witnessed by two people at the time the voter fills out the ballot. Britt said if absentee ballots lacked two witness signatures, she and others would sign them later. She said she would complete some ballots if they didn’t have all the election boxes checked, but never marked a ballot for Harris because that race was always filled in.

She couldn’t say how many absentee ballots she collected, but she signed as a witness on more than 40.

Britt took steps to avoid red flags at the county elections board. She signed her mother’s name as a witness on some ballots to reduce the number she witnessed. Dowless insisted they sign witness forms in the same color ink as the voter, and made sure the same dates were used, even if they were signed on different days. Ballots were returned to the county elections board in small batches from a post office near the voters’ residence rather than in large clumps that might draw attention.

Britt testified Dowless called a meeting after the State Board of Elections began its probe. He told the workers to stick together to avoid legal trouble because investigators had no evidence to use against them.

Britt said Dowless gave her note last Thursday with instructions on what she should say at the evidentiary hearing to protect her and to clear him. The note was shown on an overhead screen in the courtroom.* It read:

I can tell you I haven’t done anything wrong in this election, and McCrae Dowless has never told me to do anything wrong. And to my knowledge he has never done anything wrong, but I am taking the Fifth Amendment because I don’t have an attorney, and I feel like you are trying to trip me up. I am taking the Fifth.

Twice during her testimony Britt said Harris was the unwitting victim.

“I think you’ve got one innocent person in this whole thing who had no clue as to what was going on, and he’s the one getting a really bad end of the deal, and that’s Mr. Mark Harris,” Britt said.

Read more here.