RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A ballot fraud investigation produced new felony charges Tuesday against the political operative at the center of a disputed North Carolina congressional election that’s being rerun.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said in a news release that Leslie McCrae Dowless was indicted on new charges related to the 2018 general election including perjury, obstruction of justice and absentee ballot possession. He and others were charged earlier this year with counts related to the 2016 general election and 2018 primary.
Evidence that Dowless and others had improperly collected ballots prompted the state elections board, which conducted its own inquiry earlier this year, to order a new election for the 9th Congressional District seat.
Echoing and expanding on previous allegations, the new indictment accuses Dowless of directing people to collect incomplete absentee ballots and make it appear that the voter had finished them. Several others also are facing new charges.
The indictment states that Dowless “instructed individuals to sign certifications indicating they had witnessed the voter vote and properly executed the absentee ballot when they had not, and mailed or instructed others to mail the absentee ballot in such a manner to conceal the fact that the voter had not personally mailed it himself.”
It is generally against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, a measure aimed at guarding against manipulation.
The indictment says the actions of Dowless and others “served to undermine the integrity of the absentee ballot process and the public’s confidence in the outcome of the electoral process.” It also accuses Dowless of encouraging others to lie to authorities about their ballot-collection activities.
Dowless had worked for Republican congressional hopeful Mark Harris, among other candidates, though Harris isn’t mentioned in the new indictment. Harris has not been charged.
Harris appeared to have a slim lead over Democrat Dan McCready in the 2018 general election for the 9th District, but the state elections board found that the election had been tainted and ordered a new contest. Harris chose not to run in the new race.
The repeat general election will be held this fall, with McCready facing Republican Dan Bishop in the mostly rural district that includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward across several counties.