A political operative who worked on behalf of a North Carolina Republican congressional candidate was indicted on Wednesday for allegedly illegally collecting absentee ballots from voters and then taking steps to conceal his actions.
The operative, McCrae Dowless, was charged along with four other people by Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman in relation to actions in the 2016 and 2018 elections. North Carolina requires two people to sign as witnesses when they fill out absentee ballots, and the indictment alleges that in 2018, Dowless conspired with others to falsely sign as witnesses on ballots they had collected. The indictment also says he mailed the ballots in such a way to make it appear the voters had mailed them.
He was working on behalf of Republican Mark Harris during the 2018 election. Harris won the race by 905 votes, but the State Board of Elections ordered a new contest last week, saying the race was improperly tainted by fraud. Harris announced Tuesday he would not run again.
The indictment says Dowless ran a scheme in 2018 similar to the one he ran in 2016 and instructed two of his employees to lie about it to state investigators. The State Board of Elections compiled this information shortly after the 2016 election and forwarded it to federal and state prosecutors, but charges weren’t brought prior to the 2018 election.
Dowless was charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballot.
The other people charged were Caitlyn Croom, Tonia Gordon, Matthew Monroe Mathis and Rebecca Thompson. Each faces one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of absentee ballot. Mathis faces an additional charge for allegedly forging the signature of two voters on their absentee ballots.
Cynthia Singletary, a lawyer representing Dowless, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Kim Westbrook Strach, the executive director of the State Board of Elections, praised prosecutors Wednesday for bringing the charges.
“These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” she said in a statement. “Today is a new and better day for elections in our state.”
This story has been updated to include a comment from Kim Westbrook Strach.