The man accused of running an election tampering scheme that invalidated the results of a November congressional race in North Carolina was arrested Wednesday on charges of illegal ballot handling and conspiracy. Authorities also charged four others who worked with him.
North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach called the indictment against Leslie McCrae Dowless “a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina.”
Dowless is accused of manipulating absentee ballots to benefit Republican Mark Harris, who led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in November’s unofficial election results for the North Carolina’s 9th District. The state elections board declined to certify the results amid questions about ballot irregularities in Bladen County and last week called for a new election. The indictment says Dowless “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously” tampered with the vote.
Harris, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, acknowledged the need for a fresh vote after his son, John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, offered pivotal testimony at a board of elections hearing last week. The younger Harris detailed how he warned his father several years earlier of concerns about Dowless’ work for another Republican candidate after conducting an analysis of questionable results in the 2016 Republican primary. The testimony contradicted previous claims by members of the Harris campaign that they didn’t know about Dowless’ dubious history.
The Charlotte Observer praised John Harris in an editorial for doing “something that’s hard to find in politics, this week or any other. He told the truth—not with glee and not with self-interest, but because it was the right, if hard, thing to do.”
Mark Harris once declared he felt God’s call to seek elected office, citing the need for pastors to engage with the culture, but said Tuesday he would no longer run amid health concerns that will require him to have surgery in March. He has not been charged in connection with the alleged election fraud.
“Through the challenges of life, [my wife] Beth and I continually place our trust in God, and we both know He holds the future in His Hands,” Harris posted on Facebook as he announced his decision. “Please stay engaged, for it is our civic duty to do so.” —Anne K. Walters