NC political operative indicted in connection with alleged ballot-tampering scheme

NC political operative indicted in connection with alleged ballot-tampering scheme

Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative at the center of an alleged ballot-tampering scheme in North Carolina’s 9th District, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with multiple counts related to absentee-ballot irregularities in the district in previous elections.

Those charges, handed down on Tuesday by a Wake County grand jury, include three counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballots, the Wake County District Attorney’s Office said.

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The indictments are the first related to an alleged ballot-tampering scheme in North Carolina’s 9th District last year that left the results of the House race there in limbo for months.

The charges stem from Dowless’s alleged actions during the 2016 general election in North Carolina’s 9th District and the 2018 Republican primary in that same district.

Officials are still investigating irregularities in the 2018 general election there, leaving open the possibility that more charges could be handed down in the future.

At least four other people were charged in connection with the investigation, the district attorney’s office said.

Each individual faces one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of absentee ballots.

Dowless’s indictment and arrest came less than a week after the North Carolina State Board of Elections ordered a new election in the 9th District after days of evidentiary hearings detailing Dowless’s role in the alleged scheme.

Throughout that hearing, state elections officials and witnesses detailed a sweeping ballot-fraud scheme in which Dowless, a long-time political operative in rural Bladen County, allegedly paid workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters in the county. 

The hearing also hinged on what Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE, the congressional candidate who hired Dowless, knew about the operative’s alleged scheme.

Harris initially led Democrat Dan McCready in the race for the 9th District by 905 votes. But elections officials refused to certify him as the winner after concerns of absentee ballot irregularities emerged.

That touched off a months-long investigation into the alleged ballot-fraud scheme and has left residents of the 9th District without representation in the House.

Harris, a Baptist minister, called for months for the elections board to certify him as the winner of the congressional race. But in a stunning reversal last week, he told election officials at the hearing that a new election should be ordered.

Harris announced Tuesday that he would not run again for the House seat, citing medical reasons.

-- Updated at 12:33 p.m.