N.C. political operative indicted in ballot harvesting scandal

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. was indicted as part of an investigation into ballot tampering in the N.C. 9 race

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. poses for a portrait outside of his home in Bladenboro, N.C. on Dec. 5, 2018. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, File)

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., the campaign consultant accused of tampering with ballots in a North Carolina Congressional race, was arrested on several felony charges Wednesday, according to the indictment and local media reports.

The 9th District race was determined to be fraudulently won by last week in an evidentiary hearing following an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. The Board ordered a new election. The last general election redo in the country dates back to 1975. 

Numerous witnesses testified throughout the hearing that Dowless ran an absentee ballot collection operation, which is illegal in North Carolina.

Workers paid by Dowless would collect absentee ballots and deliver them to Dowless, who promised to mail them in, according to their sworn affidavits, the News & Observer reported.

The indictment said the actions taken by Dowless during the 2018 primary and a separate 2016 race were illegal.

Dowless faces seven charges: three counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballot.

“[T]he defendant named above unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously did, with deceit and intent to defraud, obstruct public and legal justice by submitting or causing to be submitted by mail absentee ballots and container-return envelopes for those ballots to the Bladen County Board of Elections in such a manner so as to make it appear that those ballots had been voted,” the indictment reads.

Four others face lesser charges, according to the Wake County district attorney's office.

Mark Harris, who hired Dowless to help his 2018 congressional campaign, announced he will not seek re-election last week after months of lobbying the board to certify him as the 9th District representative.

In an email to his son, Harris asked a local Republican for an introduction to Dowless and referred to him as “the guy whose absentee ballot project for Johnson could have put me in the US House this term.”

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.

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