Key Player in NC Election Fraud Case Dies

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr.'s trial was set to start this summer
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2019 2:08 PM CST
Updated Apr 25, 2022 1:09 AM CDT
Political Aide Charged With Election Fraud in NC Race
Leslie McCrae Dowless worked on the campaign of Republican Mark Harris.   (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, File)

(Newser) Update: The political operative who was the key player in a North Carolina absentee ballot fraud probe that led to a do-over congressional election died Sunday morning. Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who was in his mid-60s, had advanced lung cancer, the AP reports. His trial on more than a dozen state criminal counts related to absentee ballot activities for the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary and general elections was set to start this summer. Dowless had pleaded guilty last year to benefits fraud and was sentenced to six months behind bars, but his reporting date was changed from last December to April 1 after his health issues came up. The Federal Bureau of Prisons ultimately never reported Dowless as being in custody. Our original story from Feb. 27, 2019, follows:

The political operative accused of absentee ballot fraud in a North Carolina congressional race that's now getting a do-over has been indicted. Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was arrested Wednesday, faces charges over the collection of absentee ballots in the 2016 and 2018 elections, the Charlotte Observer reports. Republican Mark Harris led the 9th District race last fall by 905 votes, but the state elections board never certified the election and last week ordered a new one. Dowless worked on the Harris campaign. He faces three felony charges of obstruction of justice, two charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and two charges of possession of absentee ballots. His lawyer's office had no comment on the indictment.

Dowless did not speak at the elections board hearing last week. But his employees testified that he paid them to collect absentee ballots, and one said the workers sometimes completed them, per WRAL. She said Dowless knew that she'd forged her mother's signature as a witness on ballots. It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, per PBS. Four people Dowless is accused of paying to collect ballots from voters also were charged. A date has not been set for the new election, but Harris says it won't include him. The criminal investigation isn't over, per the Observer. The elections board will send its findings to the State Bureau of Investigations next. (Florida faced suspicions of election fraud, too.)

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