As the North Carolina Board of Elections investigates the results of the 9th Congressional District election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, questions swirl about a Bladen County electioneer.
For years, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. has been well known in Bladen County political circles.
Dowless, who goes by McCrae, serves on the board of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District as the vice chair, an elected position.
Dowless is better known for his work on campaigns other than his own.
Attempts to get in contact with Dowless have been unsuccessful. When Channel 9 stopped by the Bladen County Soil and Water Conversation District Office last week, an employee said Dowless is only in for meetings and he doesn’t use computers often.
Dowless has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s.
Records show Dowless served six months in prison after being convicted of felony fraud charge in 1992. Dowless has also previously faced a charge for perjury.
A criminal past has not stopped Dowless from working on campaigns of several prominent local and statewide politicians.
Dowless’ political career has been centered around getting out the vote.
According to campaign finance reports, Dowless’ first major race was in 2010, working for Harold Butch Pope’s campaign for Bladen County district attorney.
The Pope campaign paid Dowless $7,127 over the course of the year.
A majority of the payments were for "get out the vote" efforts. Pope defeated Jon David by more than 4,000 votes in 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.
Dowless’ candidates have not been limited to eastern North Carolina.
He was paid $800 for “consulting fees” for Republican Charlotte City Council candidate Pete Givens. Mark Harris, a friend of Givens, did a fundraiser and campaigned for him.
The NCSBE is currently investigating claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting.
Dowless’ past work includes huge differences between his candidate’s absentee by mail total and opponents.
Dowless wasn’t always connected to the Harris campaign.
In the 2016 primary, records show Dowless worked for Todd Johnson, who ran against Harris and Robert Pittenger.
Campaign finance reports show Dowless was paid $6,456 by Johnson’s campaign.
The disbursement description was for “get out the vote.”
In the June 2016 primary, Johnson finished last in the race, trailing the top vote-getter Pittenger by a little more than 1,100 votes. Despite the loss, Johnson dominated in Bladen County, carrying 68 percent of the vote.
A deeper look at the votes reveals Johnson received 98 percent of absentee by mail votes.
Johnson received 221 absentee-by-mail votes.
Pittenger and Harris combined for five.
The 221 absentee-by-mail votes amounted to 51 percent of his total votes received by that method and 21 percent of the total amount of absentee-by-mail votes when each candidate’s totals are added together.
As Channel 9 reported last week, Dowless was referenced in two affidavits that are now included in NCSBE’s investigation.
In one affidavit, a witness claims he overheard a person saying Dowless would be paid $40,000 for a Mark Harris victory.
Another man claims in an affidavit that Dowless told him he was doing “absentees” for the Mark Harris campaign and James McVicker’s campaign for Bladen County sheriff.
Campaign finance reports confirm the Bladen County sheriff paid Dowless at least $7,000. The purpose on campaign finance reports was listed as “get out to vote.”
Dowless does not appear on any campaign finance reports for Harris because he was working for Red Dome, a political consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign.
Records show the Harris campaign paid Red Dome more than $428,000. The disbursements are listed for admin and staff and grassroots.
Andy Yates, founder of Red Dome, did not respond to Channel 9’s calls Sunday evening.
According to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, the Red Dome Group was dissolved in 2017. A certificate of administrative dissolution was issued by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall on Aug. 15, 2017.
The North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office has previously told Channel 9 when a business is dissolved by the secretary of state the business is not in good standing.
Similar to Johnson, Harris put up huge absentee by mail numbers in the primary for Bladen County. Harris received 437 of 456 absentee-by-mail votes. Incumbent Pittenger only received 17. In the general election against Democrat Dan McCready, Harris received 61 percent of the absentee by mail votes. Analysis by political expert Dr. Michael Bitzer found Bladen was the only county Harris received more absentee-by-mail votes than McCready.
“In Bladen County, 61 percent of the accepted absentee-by-mail ballots went Republican--the only county to do so; meaning that along with the almost 20 percent of loyal registered Republicans who voted that method, Harris would have also received almost all the registered unaffiliated voters and/or some Democratic registered voters to make it to 62 percent of the vote,” Bitzer wrote in his analysis.
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