The North Carolina Board of Elections has released a 2016 report on GOP operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, who is currently being investigated for alleged ballot harvesting in the 2018 midterms.
In November, North Carolina election officials declined to certify the results of the 2018 midterm election in the state’s 9th congressional district following allegations of absentee ballot tampering by GOP operatives. Republican candidate Mark Harris narrowly beat Democratic challenger Dan McCready by just over 900 votes in the district.
The 2016 reports show that an investigation into complaints of possible fraud involving absentee ballots “led to information strongly suggesting that Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. … was paying certain individuals to solicit absentee request forms and to collect absentee ballots from Bladen County voters.” The report continues, “In doing so, workers employed by Dowless were required to hand-carry the ballots to Dowless in order to be paid. Dowless allegedly instructed his workers to “push” votes for certain candidates while meeting with voters.”
Possession of an absentee ballot by anyone other than the voter, their near-relative or legal guardian is a felony under North Carolina state law.
Per NBC News, the state board says that in both January 2017 and January 2018, it had provided to state and federal prosecutors similar evidence of Dowless paying associates to collect absentee ballots from voters in the 2016 election, but no action was taken in either case.
Congressional candidate Harris also seems to have been quite indifferent to the alleged election tampering. Harris was reportedly warned about questionable tactics used by Dowless in the 2016 election, and is said to have personally directed the operative’s hiring, per The Washington Post. Dowless is now under investigation by the state board over alleged similar actions in Bladen County, where Catawba College professor Dr. Michael Bitzer noted that an “unusual” number of absentee ballots were requested but not returned on his blog.
The investigation, and the results of the November election, are both still up in the air, as on Jan. 11, 2019, the nine-member state board will hold a public hearing regarding the Dowless investigation. The board can order another election if it determines that there was enough tampering in the November election to cast doubt on its outcome.
Following an election cycle in which Republican voter suppression has been such a pressing issue (see: the fight over North Carolina’s unconstitutional voting maps), hopefully, this time around, there will actually be some consequences to Dowless’ alleged election fraud.