This article needs to be updated. In particular: Further relevant events have taken place, and the results of at least three elections were thrown out..February 2019)(
Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. (born 1956) is an American political operative from the state of North Carolina and convicted felon. Dowless is at the center of a fraud investigation in the 2018 North Carolina's 9th congressional district election. In February 2019, the state election commission determined that the doubts surrounding the outcome of the election were sufficiently serious that the election results were thrown out and it was planned to hold a new election.
Dowless began working in politics in 2006, focusing on get out the vote efforts. In 2006, he worked for Rex Gore's campaign for district attorney of Bladen County. Over the next couple of years, Dowless was paid thousands of dollars for get out the vote efforts and, at times, campaign manager for eastern North Carolina candidates Wesley Meredith, Al Leonard, Ken Waddell, and William Brisson.
In 2010, he worked for Harold Butch Pope's campaign for district attorney. When asked why he chose to work for Harold Butch Pope over incumbent Rex Gore, who he previously worked for in 2006, Dowless said Gore was a “God Damn Snake” and “Lied As Soon As He Helped Him Get Re-Elected”.
Dowless himself was elected to the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation Board in 2012 and then re-elected in 2016.
2016 congressional election
In the 2016 elections for U.S. House of Representatives, Dowless worked for Todd Johnson in the Republican Party primary election. Johnson finished third, behind incumbent Robert Pittenger and Mark Harris.
After the election, Dowless filed a complaint with the North Carolina Board of Elections suggesting that his opponents committed fraud with absentee ballots. In turn, two voters filed complaints against Dowless. The board began investigating Dowless.
2018 congressional election
After noticing that Todd Johnson had won the absentee vote in Bladen County in 2016, Harris had a consulting company hire Dowless to work on his 2018 campaign. Harris introduced Dowless to a Republican candidate running for Charlotte City Council in 2017.
In the 2018 primary election, Harris defeated Pittenger, although doubts have since surfaced regarding Dowless' role in absentee balloting in the primary, in which Harris received 437 of the 456 absentee votes cast in Bladen County.
In the general election against Democratic Party nominee Dan McCready, Harris was the unofficial winner by 905 votes. However, the Board of Elections refused to certify the results of the election. Dowless is accused of paying workers to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters. and is considered a "person of interest" in the investigation over mishandled absentee ballots. On February 4, the newly seated state elections board set an evidentiary hearing to begin on February 18.
On the first day of the evidentiary hearing, state elections director Kim Strach said the evidence would show that "a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated in the 2018 general election". Lisa Britt, the daughter of Dowless's ex-wife as well as one of his employees, said Dowless and his associates had collected ballots from voters. She then testified that the ballots were kept at Dowless' home or office for several days or longer, and that operatives would fill in votes on parts or all of some ballots to favor Republican candidates in the election. She also said they had forged some witness signatures and that they had followed the direction of Dowless to take steps to avoid detection, including controlling the color of the pens used for the witness signatures, signing a different person's name as a witness to avoid having the same person as witness to too many ballots, making sure to deliver only no more than nine ballots in each visit to the post office, and making sure to use post offices near where the voters lived. Britt also said she had personally voted despite being on probation for a felony conviction and that she had taken advice from Dowless about how to do that. Dowless himself was present at the hearing but refused to testify without being granted immunity from prosecution.
On February 27, 2019, Dowless was arrested after being indicted by a grand jury. He was charged with multiple counts related to illegal ballot handling and conspiracy in the 2016 and 2018 elections. An additional four people who worked for him were also charged.
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