State Watch

North Carolina political operative pleads guilty to ballot fraud

A campaign operative at the center of the 2018 North Carolina ballot fraud scandal pleaded guilty on Monday to illegally accepting Social Security benefits while concealing other money that he had earned, The Associated Press reported.

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. pleaded guilty to theft of government property and Social Security fraud and faces up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing hearing has been set for Aug. 23.

Dowless was indicted last year after evidence revealed that he had received around $135,000 in 2017 and 2018 for his work on both state and federal campaigns, the AP reported. At the same time, he applied for Social Security benefits in 2018 and claimed to have not been working for the past few years.

Dowless worked on the 2018 congressional campaign for Republican candidate Mark Harris. Harris initially led his Democratic opponent Dan McCready by several hundred votes before it was revealed that Dowless had collected and filled out hundreds of absentee ballots in a rural North Carolina county.

In February 2019, Dowless was arrested and charged with multiple counts of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and possession of absentee ballots.

Harris has claimed not to have been aware that Dowless’s ballot fraud scheme was illegal. John Harris, Mark Harris’s son, later testified that he had informed his father that he believed Dowless’s actions were illegal, though the elder Harris went on to hire Dowless anyway.

After the scandal broke, the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously to call for a new election, which Harris did not run in, even though he himself had requested the redo after months of initially calling for the election board to certify him as the winner.

Republican Rep. Dan Bishop (N.C.) went on to win the new election.

Tags Dan Bishop Election fraud Fraud Mark Harris McCrae Dowless North Carolina North Carolina's 9th congressional district election North Carolina's 9th congressional district special election voter fraud

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