Leslie McCrae Dowless is a political operative and former convicted felon at the heart of a voter fraud investigation in North Carolina’s Bladen County, WSOC-TV reports.
Bladen County is at the center of a fraud investigation by the North Carolina Board of Elections into the results of the 9th US House District election in which Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes. The elections board declined to certify the results and are investigating irregularities in Bladen County.
Harris received a suspiciously high number of absentee votes in the county even though he lost the absentee vote in every other county in the district. Dowless, an operative in the county, was paid by Harris through a payment to his firm, Red Dome, WSOC-TV reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Leslie McCrae Dowless Served Jail Time For Fraud
Dowless has an extensive criminal history, Popular.info reports.
In 1990, he forged the signature of an employee at his auto sales business who died in a car accident on a life insurance policy, the outlet reported. He backdated the form and named himself the beneficiary. He received a check for $163,541. He pleaded guilty to felony fraud in 1992.
Dowless received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation but served six months in 1995 after he violated the terms of his parole.
Dowless also has multiple misdemeanor convictions for unpaid taxes and writing bad checks.
2. Leslie McCrae Dowless is a Longtime Political Operative
Dowless is the vice chair of the board for the Bladen Bladen County Soil and Water Conversation District and has worked on a number of campaigns to help get out the vote, WSOC reports.
Dowless worked for Harold Butch Pope’s Bladen County district attorney race in 2010 and was paid $7,127 for “get out the vote” efforts. Pope won the race by over 4,000 votes.
Dowless was later paid by the campaigns of eastern North Carolina candidates Wesley Meredith, Al Leonard, Ken Waddell, and William Brisson.
He was also paid for “consulting fees” by Republican Charlotte City Council candidate Pete Givens, a friend of Mark Harris.
In 2016, Dowless alleged that there was absentee ballot fraud in the North Carolina Governor’s race that incumbent Republican Pat McCrory lost. When he faced election officials, he appeared to admit that he was involved in fraud. Via This American Life:
Here’s what tumbles out of McCrae under the board’s questioning. He had some people working for him, getting out the vote– volunteers, McCrae calls them. The volunteers, though, were allegedly getting paid for each ballot they turned in. That is illegal. One of the voters who signed an affidavit said that Get Out the Vote workers came by and had her family request absentee ballots. But then they never received their absentee ballots in the mail like they were supposed to. Then, when the family went to vote on election day, they were told they’d already voted. In essence, McCrae’s getting accused of paying people to obtain absentee ballots, fill them out, and cast their votes on someone else’s behalf. That, for sure, is illegal. McCrae says he didn’t do anything wrong.
An election board member then calls for further criminal investigation, what appears to be Republican voter fraud.
3. Leslie McCrae Dowless Worked for Republican Mark Harris’ Campaign
Dowless does not appear on any campaign finance reports for Harris, WSOC reported, because he was hired by the political consulting firm Red Dome. Red Dome was paid more than $400,000 by Harris’ campaign for admin, staff, and grassroots work.
According to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, Red Dome was ordered to dissolve by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in August of 2017. WSOC reported that such moves are made when a “business is not in good standing.”
“He was an independent contractor who worked on grassroots for the campaign, independent of the campaign … as he’s done for a number of campaigns over the years,” Andy Yates, Harris’ top strategist and Red Dome founder, told the Charlotte Observer.
4. Leslie McCrae Dowless May Be Responsible for Absentee Ballot Irregularities in Bladen County
Harris defeated McCready by 905 votes but the elections board did not certify the results because of irregularities in Bladen County. For one, 7.5 percent of Bladen County’s voters requested absentee ballots while in other counties the number was under 3 percent. Republicans made up just 19 percent of voters in the county who requested absentee ballots but Harris won 61 percent of the absentee vote in the county. It was the only county where Harris received more absentee-by-mail votes. In the primary, Harris received 437 of 456 absentee-by-mail votes, defeating incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger, who received just 17 of the votes.
“In Bladen County, 61 percent of the accepted absentee-by-mail ballots went Republican–the only county to do so; meaning that along with the almost 20 percent of loyal registered Republicans who voted that method, Harris would have also received almost all the registered unaffiliated voters and/or some Democratic registered voters to make it to 62 percent of the vote,” wrote election expert Michael Bitzer.
Prior to working for Harris, Dowless worked for Todd Johnson when he ran against Harris and Pittenger in the 2016 Republican primary. Johnson finished last in the race but somehow won 68 percent of the vote in Bladen County, including 98 percent of absentee-by-mail votes.
According to one affidavit submitted to the North Carolina elections board, a witness claimed to overhear a person saying Dowless would be paid $40,000 if Harris won.
In another affidavit, a man claims that Dowless told him he was “doing absentees” for the Harris campaign.
Popular.info’s Judd Legum reports that just 8 people acted as witnesses for 130 of the mail-in ballots in the race, many of whom are related to Dowless.
5. North Carolina Congressional Race Indefinitely On Hold
The 9th Congressional District race has not been certified and the bipartisan nine-member elections board voted twice to decline to certify the results due to “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots,” The Charlotte Observer reported.
Numerous affidavits allege that operatives came to voters’ doors and offered to submit their absentee-by-mail ballots, which is illegal under the state’s law. Others allege that some ballots were destroyed or not sent in. According to The Observer, the “unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters.”
READ NEXT: Frank Gilliam: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know