McCrae Dowless

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Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. (born 1956)[1][2] 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.


In 1990, Dowless was convicted of felony perjury, and in 1992, he was convicted of felony insurance fraud.[3] He was sentenced to two years in prison for the latter charge, and served six months.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

In 2010, he worked for Harold Butch Pope's campaign for district attorney.[5] 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”.

In 2014, Dowless worked for Jim McVicker's campaign for sheriff. McVicker won by a small margin, and allegations were made about mishandled absentee ballots.[6]

Dowless himself was elected to the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation Board in 2012 and then re-elected in 2016.[7]

2016 congressional election[edit]

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.[8]

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.[7] The board began investigating Dowless.[9]

2018 congressional election[edit]

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.[10][11] Harris introduced Dowless to a Republican candidate running for Charlotte City Council in 2017.[12]

Primary election[edit]

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.[13]

General election[edit]

In the general election against Democratic Party nominee Dan McCready, Harris was the unofficial winner by 905 votes.[10] 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.[5] and is considered a "person of interest" in the investigation over mishandled absentee ballots.[14] On February 4, the newly seated state elections board set an evidentiary hearing to begin on February 18.[15]

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".[16] 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.[16] 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.[16][13] 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.[13] Dowless himself was present at the hearing but refused to testify without being granted immunity from prosecution.[16]


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.[17][18] An additional four people who worked for him were also charged.[19]


  1. ^ Blinder, Alan (February 20, 2019). "Inside a Fly-by-Night Operation to Harvest Ballots in North Carolina". The New York Times.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Murphy, Brian; Portillo, Ely (December 3, 2018). "At center of voter fraud scandal, a convicted felon and 'grassroots' campaigner". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  4. ^ Kane, Dan; Portillo, Ely (December 9, 2018). "'The guru of Bladen County' is at the center of NC's election troubles". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Bruno, Joe (December 19, 2018). "Election Fraud Investigation: Who is McCrae Dowless, man who appears to be center of 9th District investigation?". WSOC-TV. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  6. ^ CNN, Eric Bradner, Adam Levy, Drew Griffin and Curt Devine. "Man at center of North Carolina election fraud probe turned in hundreds of absentee ballot requests". CNN.
  7. ^ a b Kamisar, Ben; Caldwell, Leigh Ann; Gardella, Rich (December 8, 2018). "Man at the center of North Carolina election fraud allegations has complicated past". NBC News. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  8. ^ "Harris McCready election & NC 9th District fraud allegations | News & Observer". Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  9. ^ Fausset, Richard (December 19, 2018). "North Carolina Election Contractor Was Investigated for Possible Fraud in 2016 Race - The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Mark Harris hired McCrae Dowless in 9th District". Charlotte Observer. December 10, 2018. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  11. ^ Fausset, Richard; Blinder, Alan; Dias, Elizabeth (December 14, 2018). "North Carolina Republican Says He Chose to Hire Controversial Operative - The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  12. ^ "NC voter fraud case: McCrae Dowless criminal record". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  13. ^ a b c Burns, Matthew (February 18, 2019). "Mark Harris consultant mad at GOP, Bladen operative over questionable absentee ballot effort". WRAL. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  14. ^ "North Carolina officials sought to charge political operator | Don't Miss This". Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  15. ^ New NC elections board sets date for 9th District hearing, WRAL, February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c d Dalesio, Emery P. (February 18, 2019). "N Carolina elections head says ballots handled illegally". Yahoo News. Associated Press. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  17. ^ Greenwood, Max (February 27, 2019). "NC political operative indicted in connection with alleged ballot-tampering scheme". The Hill. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  18. ^ Dalesio, Emery P. (February 27, 2019). "Republican political operative at the center of the North Carolina ballot fraud scandal indicted on criminal charges". Business Insider. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  19. ^ Drew, Jonathan; Dalesio, Emery P. (February 27, 2019). "Political operative in North Carolina election upended by fraud allegations is arrested, charged". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 27, 2019.