Dowless, key figure in NC absentee ballot fraud probe, dies

Apr 24, 2022, 2:46 PM | Updated: 9:40 pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., the key player in a North Carolina absentee ballot fraud probe that led to a do-over congressional election, has died.

His daughter, Andrea Dowless Heverly, wrote that her father “passed away peacefully” Sunday morning, according to a social media post. He had been diagnosed with an advanced form of lung cancer and died at his daughter’s home in Bladen County, his friend Jay DeLancy told The Associated Press in a brief interview. Dowless was in his mid-60s.

The political operative was set to go on trial this summer on more than a dozen state criminal counts related to absentee ballot activities for the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary and general elections. A half-dozen others were also charged.

Witnesses told state officials that Dowless, with help of his assistants, gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from Bladen County in 2018. Those workers testified they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.

The 2018 general election results for the 9th Congressional District were ultimately thrown out and a new vote for the seat was ordered by the State Board of Elections, following an inquiry.

Dowless was working in the 2018 congressional race for then-Republican candidate Mark Harris. No charges were filed against Harris, who didn’t run in the subsequent election.

Dowless was later accused of charges related to the 2016 elections and the 2018 primary.

Dowless’ health had become an issue while receiving a six-month prison sentence for federal crimes involving benefits fraud that was tangentially related to the broader state probe.

A federal judge delayed Dowless’ reporting date from last December to April 1 after his defense attorney said Dowless had a stroke in August and learned in the fall about a potential cancer diagnosis.

Dowless’ federal attorney filed another motion in March that she requested be sealed “due to the inclusion of sensitive health information.” The Federal Bureau of Prisons never reported Dowless as being in custody.

Dowless’ state and federal attorneys didn’t immediately respond to emails on Sunday seeking comment. But with Dowless’ death, the absentee ballot case against him is now moot.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said legal delays caused by COVID-19 contributed to the inability to bring Dowless to trial sooner.

While expressing condolences to Dowless’ family, Freeman said Sunday her office would move forward with the prosecution of other defendants, even though Dowless had been seen as the principal in the probe.

“All of the other cases to some degree were derived from what the state thought was his master plan and coordination,” Freeman told the AP. She said each individual case would be evaluated before deciding how to proceed.

Dowless declined to accept a plea agreement on the state charges in November. The charges against him included obstruction of justice, possessing absentee ballots and perjury.

DeLancy, who saw Dowless last week, said Dowless “wanted the chance to defend himself against the state’s indictments” and rejected the plea deal “in hopes of being given his day in court.”

Dowless was “a man who was quick to trust and even love others by his acts of service,” DeLancy said in a text message.

Dowless had pleaded guilty last June in federal court to obtaining illegal Social Security benefits while concealing payments for political work he performed.


This story has been corrected to show that Dowless declined a plea agreement in November, 2021, not that summer.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lead water pipes pulled from underneath the street are seen in Newark, N.J., Oct. 21, 2021. (AP Pho...

Associated Press

Biden to require cities to replace harmful lead pipes within 10 years

The Biden administration has previously said it wants all of the nation's roughly 9 million lead pipes to be removed, and rapidly.

3 days ago

Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Oct. 28, 2...

Associated Press

Meta shuts down thousands of fake Facebook accounts that were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Meta said it removed 4789 Facebook accounts in China that targeted the United States before next year’s election.

3 days ago

A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

8 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

11 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

11 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Dierdre Woodruff

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.

Dowless, key figure in NC absentee ballot fraud probe, dies