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The Latest: Consultant unaware how ballots were collected

Mark Harris listens during a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District investigation at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Juli Leonard/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on a hearing outlining a ballot fraud investigation in an undeclared North Carolina congressional race for which a winner hasn’t been finalized (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

A North Carolina political contractor hired to run the campaign of a Republican congressional candidate said he had no idea that ballots were being collected by unauthorized persons.

Red Dome Group founder Andy Yates on Tuesday discussed his work for Mark Harris at a state elections board hearing that is examining balloting in the 9th congressional district.

Yates testified that when he joined the campaign, Leslie McCrae Dowless was already working for Harris to boost mail-in ballots in rural Bladen and Robeson counties.

Dowless has been accused by the state elections director of running an illegal and well-funded ballot-collection operation for Harris.

According to Yates, Dowless indicated he understood it was illegal for anyone besides a voter’s guardian or close family to handle a mail-in ballot.

Earlier, several people testified that they were paid by Dowless to collect absentee ballots and in some cases fill in incomplete ballots.

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11 a.m.

North Carolina elections officials looking into ballot fraud in the country’s last undecided congressional election are finding that votes were counted days ahead of Election Day in the rural county at the center of disputed results.

The state elections board on Tuesday heard from poll workers who admitted tallying results on the Saturday before Election Day when early, in-person voting ended. That’s contrary to proper practice.

Two poll workers say while they could see who had the early lead in the sheriff’s race, they didn’t tell anyone.

The state elections director says investigators didn’t find evidence that anyone else was tipped off early about the vote totals.

The elections board is deciding whether Republican Mark Harris won November’s races for the 9th congressional district election or a re-run is necessary.

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1:10 a.m.

North Carolina elections officials say the country’s last undecided congressional election was marred by falsified signatures, blank ballots that consultants could complete and disappearing documents.

The state elections board could decide as early as Tuesday whether that was unfortunate but tolerable, or whether to order a new election in the 9th congressional district.

Investigators are expected to seek testimony from dozens of other voters in rural Bladen and Robeson counties and people who worked with political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless. The consultant hired by Republican Mark Harris’ campaign was accused by the state elections director of running an illegal and well-funded ballot-harvesting operation for the GOP candidate.

Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready, but the contest wasn’t certified because of suspicions the result was tainted.

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This story has been corrected to show that poll workers said others saw early results of Bladen County sheriff’s race, not congressional race.

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