Man accused of being ringleader of illegal ballot harvesting operation in NC race arrested

An operative in North Carolina's unresolved congressional race has been charged with obstruction and illegal ballot possession related to 2016 and 2018 elections.

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Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Wednesday that Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. was arrested after the grand jury indictments following "presentation of evidence gathered during the investigation into absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County during the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election."

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An order has set pretrial release conditions for Dowless at $30,000 secured and barred him from contact with anyone named in the indictments.

Dowless faces three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballot.

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According to testimony and other findings detailed at an election board hearing last week, Dowless conducted an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation. He and his assistants are accused of gathering up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.

State law makes it illegal for anyone other than a voter or a voter’s close relative to handle his or her mail-in ballot.

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Also charged were people Dowless is alleged to have paid in 2016 to collect ballots, identified by the District Attorney's Office as Caitlyn Croom, Matthew Mathis, Tonia Gordon and Rebecca Thompson. They face one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of absentee ballot.

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Mathis also faces charges of falsely signing the voter certification on an absentee ballot.

Officials with the District Attorney’s Office said the investigation, including irregularities discovered during the 2018 general election, is ongoing.

Dowless was working on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris, who had a slim lead in last November’s vote count before a new election was ordered.

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According to a release, the Wake County district attorney has met with investigators of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and anticipates that the investigation completed by the State Board of Elections will be forwarded to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation within the next 30 days, when it will be reviewed to determine what additional investigative work is necessary.

The cases have been set on an administrative calendar for Monday, March 25, in Wake County Superior Court.

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