Man at center of District 9 election fraud investigation dies after battle with cancer

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the U.S. House District 9 election fraud investigation, has died, according to his attorney. Dowless was battling cancer. He was 65.

In 2019, Dowless was indicted on several charges in connection to the election fraud investigation in Bladen County, including felony obstruction of justice, perjury and possession of absentee ballots.

A Channel 9 investigation in 2018 uncovered allegations that Dowless paid people to illegally collect absentee ballots for Republican candidate Mark Harris.

Harris’s opponent, Dan McCready, conceded to Harris on election night, but weeks later the North Carolina Board of Elections voted not to certify the election results.

Channel 9′s Joe Bruno traveled to Bladen County after receiving a tip about people knocking on voters’ doors and picking up absentee ballots, which is illegal. Channel 9 spoke to multiple people who said Dowless paid them to collect ballots. Dowless was working for the Harris campaign.

In February 2019, the state board of elections called for a new election in North Carolina’s District 9 congressional race. It is the only time in documented history a federal election was overturned for a fraud investigation.

Also in February 2019, Dowless was arrested on fraud charges tied to the 2016 general election and 2018 primary election. Months later, a grand jury in Wake County indicted Dowless and six others for charges tied to the 2018 general election. The DA decided there was no evidence to support a criminal case against Harris.

In November 2021, Dowless denied a plea deal that would have required him to spend a year in prison and five years on probation. He was scheduled to go on trial in the summer of 2022.

DA: Cases to move forward in District 9 election fraud investigation

(In the video above, government reporter Joe Bruno speaks with the DA about the investigation)

Channel 9 asked the Wake County District Attorney how this will affect the pending charges against Dowless and his co-defendants. The DA’s office sent a statement Sunday saying:

“Our condolences to the Dowless family. Unfortunately, COVID created a delay in the handling of this case like with many others. We had set a trial date of August and Mr. Dowless was entitled to the presumption of innocence through his day in court. There remain about six others charged related to this matter and we will be moving forward with those cases with the understanding that the State’s position was always that Mr. Dowless was the principle coordinator of the ballot process in question.”

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said the rest of the cases will move forward for the remaining people accused of election fraud.

“These are, again, cases that very much strike at the heart of the integrity of the electoral process,” Freeman said. “And, you know, it’s important that we ensure and protect that election process.”

She confirmed Monday that in addition to the six others related to the charges in 2018, four are facing charges related to the 2016 election.

They will likely head to court in the summer.

Freeman said she expected several of them to testify against Dowless.

When everything is wrapped up, Freeman plans to release the investigative report by the State Bureau of Investigation.

“I know it is something that is of high public interest,” Freeman said. “And I think at the end of the day, the public has a right to know as much as they possibly can about what happened.”

Since the scandal, the state has increased penalties to combat absentee ballot fraud.

The state also doesn’t immediately reveal the identities of people who have requested an absentee ballot. That information isn’t disclosed until after their ballots have been accepted by the state elections board.

The case has been thrust back into the spotlight at a time hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are getting ready to vote.

Political expert Michael Bitzer said it is important for the cases to be seen through to the end.

“To ensure that the most sacred component of our democratic republic, the franchise, elections voting, have integrity on it,” Bitzer said. “So, I think certainly this is a dynamic that is already at the forefront of so many people’s minds.”

Freeman said the investigation was lengthy, and Dowless’ trial was delayed due to COVID-19.

She also said the priority for prosecutions went to homicide and violent crime cases when court cases continued during COVID-19, which contributed to the long lapse in time.

In September 2021, a federal judge sentenced Dowless to six months in prison for Social Security fraud. Authorities said he collected disability payments while working on campaigns in 2018. He did not report his work and income to the Social Security Administration.

Dowless was originally told to report to prison for the Social Security fraud in December 2021, but asked for an extension due to health issues. He was then scheduled to report to prison by April 1, 2022. However, Channel 9 checked Federal Bureau of Prisons records and learned Dowless was not in custody.

Statement from Dowless family:

“On behalf of Andrea Heverly, daughter of McCrae Dowless, the family would like to thank everyone who has so lovingly reached out and supported them during this time of loss. They have lost their father, their “Papa Crae”, their brother, and the man who they turned to for support. He was so much more to them than just “a news story”. Although there have been numerous inaccuracies reported through the years, one news outlet got it correct when they reported that McCrae Dowless could quote political statistics like some people quote sports statistics. He did love politics, and the process by which officials are elected in this country, believing it was one of the cornerstones of our government. In fact, he served as an elected official himself for a number of years in Bladen County. He was proud of his accomplishments in the political world. The family looks forward to the public finally hearing “the rest of the story”, which he has made arrangements to be heard at the appropriate time. However, now is not that time. Now is a time for grieving our devastating loss. We respectfully ask for time to grieve, your prayers and privacy for our family during this very difficult time.”

A funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. at Center Road Baptist Church in Bladenboro on Saturday, April 30. Before, the family will receive friends at 3 p.m. Burial will follow the services in the Bullard Cemetery.

This is a developing story. Return to wsoctv.com for updates.

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