A widespread absentee ballot fraud scheme in Bladen County, North Carolina, caused the state’s Election Board to order a new election. Bladen County operative Leslie McCrae Dowless paid people to illegally collect absentee ballots from voters’ doorsteps, even having his team forge signatures, fill in votes, and act as witnesses without seeing the voter complete the ballot, and mail in the ballots to aid candidate Mark Harris in the November 2018 congressional election. Dowless was already investigated in 2016 for carrying out the exact same scheme with congressional candidate Todd Johnson.
Mark Harris’s own son, John Harris, testified against him to the Board of Elections. John said he warned his father about the highly problematic ballot procedures in 2017, and has had limited contact with his parents since December 2018. A federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, John testified that he had made clear that there were significant red flags with Dowless’s operation. Earlier in the week, Dowless’s former stepdaughter, Lisa Britt, also testified against him. She described the lengths he instructed his team to take, including the use of similarly colored pens to complete unfilled contests on the ballot, to ensure that their fraudulent scheme did not get flagged as suspicious by election officials.
As the evidence continued to mount, Harris announced that he was withdrawing his bid to be declared the election winner and called for a new election. The North Carolina Board of Elections unanimously voted to hold a new election for the 9th Congressional District.
This blatant absentee fraud in Bladen County undermines the public’s confidence in our elections and now leaves a congressional seat vacant.