Inside his barber shop in Bladenboro, N.C., Rodney Baxley is giving Bobby Simmons a haircut. The two men are talking about what everyone in this part of the state has been talking about for the better part of the past month: McCrae Dowless, and the operation he was running to get out the vote for Republican Mark Harris in the congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th District. “I don’t think [Dowless] cares about who wins, as long as he gets paid,” Baxley says, as he trims just above Simmons’ right ear. “He’s in it for the cash,” Simmons chimes in. Bladen County, where Baxley’s barber shop is located, is rural, about 150 miles east of Charlotte, and home to the country’s largest pork processing plant, Smithfield Foods. The North Carolina Board of Election’s investigation into possible election fraud has cast a dark, cynical cloud over the community here. “It just shows you how sleazy politics are,” Baxley says.
Dowless has been named a person of interest in the investigation. Leading up to this year’s election, he was paid by a consulting firm hired by Harris to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, but those efforts may have gone too far.
A number of voters have come forward this year to say Dowless collected their ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina — only a voter or their relative can return an absentee ballot. One man even signed an affidavit this week saying he saw Dowless with as many as 800 ballots in his possession before the election.
All of that has the State Board of Elections looking into whether the ballots Dowless handled were actually turned in, or whether they were manipulated in some way. Harris remarkably won 61 percent of the absentee ballots in Bladen County, despite registered Republicans only turning in 19 percent of the absentee ballots.