Politics

GOP Operative Indicted On Criminal Charges In NC Ballot Fraud Case

(Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Jacob Orgel Contributor

The North Carolina political operative who orchestrated a voter fraud scandal in support of Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris was indicted Wednesday, according to a state prosecutor.

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., the 63-year-old conspirator whose actions forced the state to order a new election, was arrested on criminal charges along with four accomplices. He faces the most extreme accusations, including illegal possession of absentee ballots and obstruction of justice, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said.

North Carolina law prohibits possession of absentee ballots by anyone other than the voter or a close relative. Dowless and his employees were linked to at least 788 requests for such ballots in Bladen County. (RELATED: Mark Harris Bows Out Of Do-Over North Carolina Congressional Race Citing Health Concerns)

WILMINGTON, NC - MAY 6: Voters cast their ballots at the Williston Middle School polling station the morning of May 6, 2008 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Voters in Indiana and North Carolina have their primary polls May 6. (Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

Voters cast their ballots at the Williston Middle School … (Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

He is charged for felonious actions preceding the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary. Current allegations do not include behavior relating to the 2018 general election, which is still under investigation.

The state elections board said last year that Dowless attempted to obstruct the investigation into his actions by directing his accomplices, whom he paid to illegally collect ballots, what to tell investigators if questioned.

His “ballot harvesting” operation also entailed collecting absentee ballots from unsuspecting voters by offering to mail them. Employees were then told to forge signatures and fill in votes for local candidates, according to findings presented at a state board of elections hearing. (RELATED: North Carolina Elections Director Says GOP Consultant Orchestrated An ‘Unlawful’ Ballot-Harvesting Scheme)

Dowless was hired by Harris, who has since decided not to continue to pursue his candidacy.

The board has not yet announced a date for the new election to select a representative from the 9th Congressional District. Freeman said criminal hearings for Dowless and associates will take place during the last week of March in a Wake County court, according to the Greensboro News & Record.

Follow Jacob Orgel on Twitter