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Central figure in North Carolina absentee ballot fraud indicted on multiple counts

McCrae Dowless is charged with felonious obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit federal obstruction of justice and possession of absentee ballots.

WASHINGTON — Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative alleged to have run an illegal absentee ballot-gathering operation on behalf of GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris in 2018, was indicted on multiple criminal charges Wednesday by a Wake County grand jury.

The indictment states that he is charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit federal obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballots.

Image: Leslie McCrae Dowless
Leslie McCrae Dowless poses for a portrait outside of his home in Bladenboro, North Carolina on Dec. 5, 2018.Travis Long / The News and Observer via AP file

The charges are the latest development in an absentee ballot operation run by Dowless that led to the results being thrown out in the ninth Congressional district elections as well as two other local races. Dowless was hired by Harris to run a get-out-the vote effort in the 2018 midterm election in two rural counties in the southeastern part of the state.

The indictment comes just days after the North Carolina Board of Elections unanimously voted to hold a new election in the race because of the taint the controversy has placed on the election.

The indictment spans two election cycles, however. Three of the charges are from the 2018 election and four of the charges are from the 2016 election.

The indictment says that Dowless' actions "did obstruct public justice by resulting in the counting of spoiled absentee ballots" and that it "served to undermine the integrity of the absentee ballot process and the public’s confidence in the outcome of the electoral process."

"This offense was done with deceit and intent to defraud and against the peace and dignity of the state," the indictment adds.

The document also summarizes how Dowless' operation worked. "Ballots were collected from voters and taken into possession unlawfully; witness certifications were signed indicating the signor had witnessed the voter vote the absentee ballot when he or she had not, and the ballots were mailed in such a manner to conceal the fact that the voter had not personally mailed it himself," the indictment details. "It thereby served to undermine the integrity of the absentee ballot process and the public’s confidence in the outcome of the electoral process."

The North Carolina Board of Election's decision to call for a new election was made after Harris surprisingly suggested there should be a new election in testimony last week, saying that the public had lost confidence in the results. Harris' son had testified against his father the prior day, saying he warned his father about Dowless. On Election Day, Harris had narrowly topped Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results.

Harris announced Monday that he would not run in the new election, citing poor health.