Man at center of North Carolina election scandal was convicted of felony fraud

Leslie McCrae Dowless (right) and his brother.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously to not certify the results of the congressional race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The unofficial tally has Harris ahead by just 905 votes.

The decision comes after substantial evidence of improprieties involving absentee ballots. A series of affidavits submitted suggests that a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was hired by the Harris campaign through a contractor, systematically falsified, manipulated, and potentially destroyed absentee ballots -- particularly in Bladen County. Harris won Bladen County by 1,557 votes, more than his margin statewide.

Analysis of the vote in Bladen shows significant statistical anomalies in absentee voting. 7.5% of voters in Bladen requested absentee ballots, while in most counties it was less than 3%. In Bladen, Republicans represented just 19% of voters who requested absentee ballots, but Harris won 61% of the absentee vote.

According to the affidavits, McCrae Dowless and his team allegedly showed up at voters doors and collected absentee ballots, which is illegal. Here is one example:

Another person filed an affidavit saying McCrae Dowless said he was hired by Harris to work the absentee ballot operation in Bladen County. If Harris won, McCrae Dowless said he would be paid $40,000 in cash.

As the problems in North Carolina's 9th District have garnered national attention, one important aspect of the story has gone unreported: McCrae Dowless' criminal record. Records from the North Carolina Department Of Public Safety obtained by Popular Information reveal McCrae Dowless has been convicted of multiple crimes.

On August 22, 1990, a 24-year-old employee of McCrae Dowless’ auto sales business, Charles Simmons Jr., died in a single car accident. After Simmons’ death, McCrae Dowless forged Simmons’ signature on a life insurance policy and backdated it to August 20. He named himself the beneficiary.

McCrae Dowless paid one month of premiums, which was $38.19. He then submitted a claim. On November 30, 1990, he received a check for $163,541.92. He pleaded guilty to felony fraud on May 21, 1992.

McCrae Dowless received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation but he violated his parole. His probation was revoked and he served about 6 months in jail for his crime in 1995.

McCrae Dowless also has several misdemeanor convictions for writing bad checks and failing to pay taxes.  

In 2016, McCrae Dowless alleged there was absentee ballot voter fraud targeting then-Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory (R). But when McCrae Dowless appeared before election officials to detail his allegations, he appeared to acknowledge that he was involved in fraud.

The hearing was reported by the popular radio show 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.

The State Board of Elections will hold a hearing on what happened in Bladen and neighboring counties on or before December 21. Under state law, the board has the power to order new elections.

This is a special report from Popular Information, a newsletter with original research and fresh insight into the political news that matters most — written by me, Judd Legum.

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